On 8 December 2014, the Permanent Mission of the Czech Republic to the United Nations, in collaboration with the Permanent Mission of Afghanistan to the United Nations, co-organized a panel discussion entitled “Political Participation of Women – Why Should Men Bother?” The panel featured Mr. Petr Drulak, First Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Czech Republic, H.E. Ambassador Zahir Tanin, Permanent Representative of Afghanistan to the UN, Mr. Ivan Šimonović, Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights and Mr. Daniel Seymour, Deputy Director of Programmes, UN Women. The discussion was moderated by Ambassador Edita Hrdá, Permanent Representative of the Czech Republic to the UN.
All panelists stressed the importance of women’s political participation to the wellbeing of society as a whole and agreed that gender equality is a priority for men and women alike. “Equal participation is not only fair and just. It is in the best interest for all. It is a project for all,” said Mr. Šimonović.
Taking the floor, Ambassador Tanin noted the importance of this discussion, particularly in Afghanistan, and countries in the Islamic world, where women face significant obstacles in public and political life. “Just as the Taliban in the 1990s imposed their own interpretation of Sharia law, today Islamist extremist groups from ISIL to Boko Haram force women to conform to their fanatical frameworks of austerity and deny them their rights to public life, education and autonomy,” he said.
Ambassador Tanin then gave an overview of the historical context of women’s rights in Afghanistan. . “Afghanistan in the 1920s was at the forefront of the women’s rights movement in the Islamic world,” he said. The Afghan constitution, adopted in 1921, guaranteed the equal rights of citizens and the state significantly expanded access to education and public services for women and girls in the country. In the 1960s and 1970s, we dozens of girls’ and mixed schools were established, hundreds of women were sent for education abroad, women were elected to the Parliament and appointed to high level government positions including the Cabinet. Afghanistan was seen as one of the most modern places for women in the region until the emergence of the Taliban in the 1990s, which caused a disastrous retreat in women’s rights.
Afghanistan has made great progress in the last decade. A key example of the enhanced role of women in Afghanistan is their unprecedented involvement in the recent Presidential and Provincial elections as millions of women participated as voters, candidates, campaigners and observers. The country has joined the international discourse on women through its commitments and actions, with men playing an important role in promoting the advancement of women in the country. The new President of Afghanistan, H.E. Dr. Mohammad Ashraf Ghani is committed to improving the political participation of women. “The government and the civil society – men and women included – are part of the new strategies, plans and measures that focus on women’s rights,” Ambassador Tanin said.
Ambassador Tanin highlighted three main factors that were critical for the advancement of women in Afghanistan: the role of leaders, the state and civil society. In the months and years ahead, he emphasised, “it is essential that Afghanistan preserve all that has been achieved; a retreat will be disastrous in a country where women’s’ rights has been the core of our successful democratization. We need peace and there is a great role for both women and men to play the future in Afghanistan.”