March 8 is International Women’s Day, observed around the world annually to promote gender equality. In Afghanistan, March 8 is a special day, because it is an opportunity to celebrate the impressive progress achieved by Afghan women during the last two decades, and to re-energize our collective efforts to tackle persistent challenges on the road to gender equality.
Over the past two decades, with the support of the international community, Afghan women have fought for their rights and freedoms, raised their voices against injustice, participated in democratic and social processes and contributed to the defence of their nation. Today, Afghan women are key contributors to society and have gained increased visibility and respect among Afghan men.
This year, International Women’s Day carries deeper resonance, as a rare yet genuine opportunity for peace may be finally emerging to end four decades of war. Most Afghan citizens yearn for such promise, as ceaseless conflicts have left the country exhausted, with almost no family untouched by the loss of one or several loved ones. The violence and the consequentially crippled economy have compelled thousands of Afghans to seek a brighter future outside of their country. At the same time, many Afghans worry that the prospect of peace with the Taliban could potentially set back rights and freedoms. This is a prospect that awakens painful memories from the past, particularly for women.
This year’s celebration shines light on the upcoming 20th anniversary of the United Nations Security Council Resolution #1325 on Women, Peace and Security. In alignment with this resolution, the international community actively supports greater participation by women in the formal peace process. Through multiple programs and projects, we are advocating for women’s meaningful involvement in peace talks, and building the capacity of women to promote peace throughout the country. We will continue to work to provide a space for women to voice their views on the peace process, not only in terms of “gender” but in every facet of life.
As intra-Afghan talks are expected to take place soon, we believe that women have to have a real seat at the table, with their opinions carrying equal weight as those of men. Given their different place in society, and their differing needs and aspirations, women provide unique viewpoints distinct from those of men. Having them meaningfully included in peace talks is necessary for Afghanistan to move forward and put an end to four decades of loss and devastation.
It is important to remember that women’s opinions are not limited to gender-specific issues. Work, security, access to education, access to health services, are all matters of importance to everyone, regardless of their gender, regardless of their origin or regardless of their language.
As members of the international community, we believe an enduring peace will only be possible if built on the gains in human rights, especially women’s rights, made over the last two decades in Afghanistan. We will continue to support the advancement of Afghan women and girls, and work to enhance their leadership capacity. We will continue to insist on the necessity to ensure that any peace comes for all Afghan citizens, women and men, girls and boys. We will support and amplify women’s voices at every stage of the peace process.
From many conflicts around the world, history has demonstrated that a peace agreement that includes all parts of society and that meaningfully includes women will be more durable. We will do our part to help support such an agreement.
We wish all Afghan women a very happy International Women’s Day!
Geoffrey Tooth, Australian Ambassador to Afghanistan
Alison Blake, British Ambassador to Afghanistan
Dave Metcalfe, Canadian Ambassador to Afghanistan
Pierre Mayaudon, Ambassador and Head of the Delegation of the EU to Afghanistan
Nicholas Kay, RS NATO Senior Civilian Representative to Afghanistan