Women belong at the centre of peace efforts, women UN leaders urge in Afghanistan

25 July 2019
 Women UN leaders meet with female leaders and advocates in Kabul, Afghanistan. Women's voices must be heard, they emphasized. © Fardin Waezi / UNAMA


Kabul, Afghanistan/UNITED NATIONS, New York – UNFPA Executive Director Dr. Natalia Kanem joined a high-level delegation of women UN leaders on an intensive two-day “solidarity mission” to Afghanistan to highlight the need for women’s voices to be elevated in peacebuilding and decision-making. 

She travelled alongside United Nations Deputy Secretary-General Amina J. Mohammed, UN Political and Peacebuilding Affairs chief, Rosemary DiCarlo and the head of UN Women, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka. 

Women’s empowerment and inclusion are essential to Afghanistan’s future, Dr. Kanem emphasized. “Only when women are safe and empowered to make decisions over their bodies and lives will the country be able to achieve sustainable development and peace.” 

Peace must be inclusive

The mission, on Saturday and Sunday, took place in advance of the presidential election, which is set for the end of September. It also comes on the heels of deadly attacks outside Kabul University and police headquarters in Kandahar City. 

Both the elections and peace negotiations must be inclusive, urged members of the delegation. “Inclusive means women at the centre,” Ms. Mohammed said.

The women UN leaders discussed the importance of women’s empowerment in a series of meetings with government officials including President Ashraf Ghani, Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah, First Lady Rula Ghani and the Governor of Bamyan, as well as women leaders and advocates, and religious leaders. 


The leaders visited Bamyan Province, meeting women police, health officials and advocates. “I am encouraged that 75 other women have joined me at the Bamyan Police since 2009 and are working to prevent and respond to gender-based violence," said Nahid, a gender officer in the Bamyan Police Command. © Fardin Waezi / UNAMA
The leaders visited Bamyan Province, meeting women police, health officials and advocates. “I am encouraged that 75 other women have joined me at the Bamyan Police since 2009 and are working to prevent and respond to gender-based violence," said Nahid, a gender officer in the Bamyan Police Command. © Fardin Waezi / UNAMA

Addressing gender-based violence

The insecurity facing Afghan women is not confined to the country’s long-running conflict. They also face high levels of violence in their communities and homes.

More than half of married women have reported experiencing some form of gender-based violence, largely spousal violence and violence during pregnancy. Yet these abuses remains chronically underreported. And women who experience sexual violence from someone other than a husband can face additional consequences, such as prosecution for ‘zina’ or sex outside of marriage. 

On Sunday, the women UN leaders travelled outside Kabul to Bamyan Province, where UNFPA works with the Ministry of Public Health to operate a ‘family protection centre,’ which provides medical care, counselling, legal assistance and other critical services to survivors of gender-based violence. Survivors are also referred to police and shelters. 

“In Bamyan, the most common causes of gender-based violence are poverty, traditional beliefs that women are subordinate to men and low community awareness on the issue. Psychological and physical violence, as well as forced marriage, are very high,” explained Shakila Paiman, who is in charge of the centre.

The centre, which is supported by the Republic of Korea, has assisted more than 3,000 survivors since its opening in 2014. In addition to aiding survivors, it also works with the community to address some of the root causes of violence.

Dr. Kanem and Deputy Secretary-General Mohammed tour the hospital. © Fardin Waezi / UNAMA

“The family protection centre facilitates dialogue with community elders and civil society to help raise awareness on gender-based violence so as to help empower women,” Ms. Paiman said.

“Ending sexual and gender-based violence is our collective responsibility,” Dr. Kanem said following the visit. “It not only affects a woman’s dignity, health and well-being, but it prevents her from participating actively in her community and contributing to peace.” 

Addressing the needs of survivors is not enough, she added. Women and girls also, fundamentally, need equality. “If we stand united in our pursuit of gender equality, human rights and justice, we can prevent this scourge one person, one community, one country at a time.” 

Throughout Afghanistan, UNFPA operates 26 family protection centres in 22 provinces, with additional centres planned.

Hope for the future

The women leaders also toured the hospital where the family protection centre is hosted. 

Women in the province have significant unmet reproductive health care needs; approximately half of women give birth at home without the care of a skilled birth attendant. 

To expand access to life-saving reproductive health care in Afghanistan, UNFPA supports more than 100 ‘family health houses,’ which provide reproductive, maternal and child health services to around 300,000 people in under-served areas. 

The family health houses also help women advocate for their own health needs. “The family protection centre and family health houses, funded by UNFPA, help women become more involved in decision-making, empowering them in daily life,” said Mohammad Tahir Zohair, the governor of Bamyan.

Although the mission highlighted the significant challenges facing women and girls, Dr. Kanem said she was moved by the strength of those she had met. 

“Despite tremendous suffering, the resilience of the women and girls I met on this visit gave me hope for the future of Afghanistan,” she said. 

Women deminers gave a demonstration of their work. © Fardin Waezi / UNAMA