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Afghanistan Celebrates International Women’s Day

On March 8, nations all over the world united to celebrate International Women’s Day. Afghan women joined with women on all continents to celebrate the ongoing struggle for gender equality, justice, peace and development.  The United Nations first marked International Women’s Day in 1975, during the International Year for Women, and it is now celebrated across the world to recognize the achievements of women and provide an opportunity to unite and foster meaningful change. The theme for this year is ending impunity for violence against women.

To mark the occasion, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said “This day is an opportunity for all of us -- women and men -- to unite in a cause that embraces all humankind. Empowering women is not only a goal in itself. It is a condition for building better lives for everyone on the planet.”

Afghanistan remains committed to expanding and upholding women’s rights, as is mandated by the Afghan Constitution. Women have traditionally held many distinguished positions in Afghan society, working as teachers, nurses, academics, and as political and military leaders. Since the fall of the Taliban regime five years ago, two million girls have returned to school, and women hold 68 seats in the 249-member Parliament. By the end of 2010 the National Action Plan for Women in Afghanistan will be fully implemented. The Afghan Government has pledged itself in its National Development Strategy to strengthen female participation in all Afghan governance institutions, including elected and appointed positions.

Numerous announcements were made by international organizations in partnership with the Ministry of Women’s Affairs in honor of International Women’s Day. The United Nations boosted funding for Afghan women with a $10 million grant to the Ministry of Women’s Affairs. The fund will be used in projects for gender equality, women’s empowerment and improving women’s access to Afghanistan’s justice system.

A UN fair, film screening and photo exhibition was attended by hundreds of women at the Women’s Garden in Kabul. Female counselors from UNICEF and UNFPA were also on hand to give advice and guidance on some of the key health, education and social issues facing Afghanistan’s women. The event was attended by General Khatol, one of Afghanistan’s female generals, as well as an accomplished paratrooper and deputy head of the military’s women’s section. In Kandahar UNAMA collaborated with the Department of Women’s Affairs to screen a film on the life of activist Safia Ama Jan who was murdered last year for her tireless efforts on behalf of Afghanistan’s women.

A group of female Parliamentarians, Government and NGO representatives gathered at the UN Development Fund for Women’s (UNIFEM) Resource Centre for Women in Politics with the aim of developing policies and legislation to address five key areas in which women suffer violence in Afghanistan. These key areas are child and forced marriage, immolation, elopement, bad and badal, and the abuse of the elderly and widows. Deputy Minister for Women’s Affairs Ms. Mazari Safa attended along with over 50 Parliamentarians represented by Ms. Taiba Zahidi from the Meshrano Jirga and Ms. Shafiqa Noori from the Wolesi Jirga.

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) announced that it would break ground on a shelter specifically designed for child victims of trafficking. The Italian-funded initiative is expected to open in September 2007 and will provide trafficked children under the age of 18 with comprehensive recovery and reintegration assistance, including board and lodging, health assessment, psychological counseling, education and vocational training. This month will also see the launch of an IOM literacy campaign using radio to target women in remote areas in the western province of Badghis.

The Ministry of Women’s Affairs partnered with Medica Mondiale to launch a campaign to encourage marriage registration, and Women for Afghan Women opened a family guidance center to help victims of domestic violence. The Ministry of Counter-Narcotics announced its plan to build a 20-bed hospital for women addicted to drugs in Kabul, the first ever initiative for females.

International Women’s Day conincided with a visit by Canadian Governor General Michaelle Jean, who met with President Hamid Karzai on March 8. Governor General Jean is the representative in Canada of Britain's Queen Elizabeth II and is the Commander-in-Chief of the Canadian armed forces. While she was in Afghanistan, she visited Canadian troops and met with leading women politicians and representatives of civil society groups.

For the past five years, International Women’s Day has served as a catalyst for discussion and debate about the role of women in Afghan society. As Afghanistan progresses along its path toward security and prosperity, expanding education opportunities for women and girls has remained a government priority. Investing in education is also investing in women empowerment.  It is through education and economic empowerment that Afghan women will become aware of their constitutional and economic rights, leading them from dependency to equality. 



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