In the name of Allah, the most merciful and the most compassionate
Dear audience, my esteemed sisters, Dr. Samar and Dr. Sarabi, the honorable Minister of Labor and Social Affairs and Minister of Women’s Affairs, Ambassador McKinley, Ms. Wilkins, and, most importantly, our sisters gathered here from 34 provinces. Welcome and Assalamu-Alaikum wa Rahmatu-Allahi-wa Barakatuh!
I am honored to attend this gathering where there are discussions not only about the future of women, but also about the future of all Afghans. Women, working with the previous and current governments, have attained significant roles in governance, politics, leadership, advocacy and partnership; and this is, in fact, a great achievement for the Afghan people.
Before coming to today's main discussion, I would like to touch on two points. Two days ago, a large and deadly traffic accident occurred which resulted in the martyrdom of a large number of our people − may their souls rest in peace. It was a shocking incident that came on top of other existing problems. Unfortunately, it happened, but now it is time to be with the families of the victims and for the government to provide them the required services. I raise this because I will come back to this incident later in my talk.
Currently, there is a great deal of discussion going on in the country about the extension of electricity to different parts of the country, particularly to the central regions. First, I would like to assure the Afghan people that our hope and priority is for the provision of electricity for all and having it happen quickly. The problem I see is understanding the issue and finding the solution, and I hope the establishment of a commission helps us to meet the demands of the Afghan people, especially those in central regions.
As you know, Promote is a joint commitment between the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and the U.S. government to empower women, and it is also USAID's largest women’s empowerment program in the world − their biggest commitment at the international level. I would like to take this opportunity to thank the United States Government and its people for their sincere assistance and help over the years, particularly their help directly to the Afghan people who are most appreciative and grateful.
You delegates from all over the country gathered here during the last two days to discuss your shared future, and I congratulate you on having formed coalitions and identified three priorities from a total of twelve − all as part of the Musharikat project. Importantly, you have set goals for yourselves and you have explored the issues. Besides your gathering here, what I value most is that you dealt with the issues in a very serious and comprehensive way, as was mentioned by the woman from Farah.
You also explored realistic and feasible solutions, ones that can actually be executed in your communities. You asked the important questions. How can 5,000 individuals and 50 CSOs build their communication networks throughout the country? How can these coalitions be effective using the available tools? In fact, this demonstrates the kind of leadership that is based on the needs and priorities identified by women themselves. The discussions which took place were not intended to just identify and decide the issues of women of Kunar, but we have women here from all over Afghanistan. Here are women coming from all parts of the country with a huge number of problems. They have discussed and shared with the other women present, and, today, have come up with three main issues: access to education (which is a fundamental issue), women’s economic empowerment, and violence against women.
The approaches offered here will help us achieve the goal I hope we all have. I assure you of the full commitment of the National Unity Government (NUG) to support Promote-related programs in general and, in particular, Musharikat and, generally, to support women's role in society. This is a firm commitment based on our understanding of the situation and the needs of all our people. Women’s economic empowerment is not only a moral imperative, but it is an important step for overall economic growth and having a healthy and prosperous society. This is our top priority, and our commitment in this regard is unshakeable.
This program is named Musharikat or "partnership" in English. When you are taking practical steps, of course you will face problems and obstacles along the way. Be sure that your main support is the government of Afghanistan; consider us as a loyal partner. We have been witness to some programs in the past which were not in alignment with the government's programs. This project is different. I know the objectives of this project, and it provides an excellent opportunity for all of us to make great strides for women’s empowerment.
Another issue we faced in the past was that projects focused only on cities, and the rural areas were not taken into consideration. You are aware of this opportunity and will take this into account in your strategies. We all agree that some problems are common to all Afghans, while some are specific to certain areas in Afghanistan. You represent all of Afghanistan here today and will not forget your sisters outside the big cities.
I appreciate you for your courage in raising these important issues. You must actively strive for your objectives, because you have a long way to go and you must compensate for missed opportunities in the past.
Good presentations were made by the three leaders of the coalitions. As I was once the head of a coalition, I understand the challenges facing coalition leaders. Leading a coalition is a big responsibility and requires developing specific goals, while at the same time including everyone's thoughts and ideas so that they can see themselves being active in the group. If a coalition is built in a way that part of the people do not see their interests being addressed, the coalition will become weak. Your coalition’s strength is in the partnership of its members. The term being used by the project is a good one: Musharikat. Through “musharikat,” your coalitions will help us achieve the goals we all want for Afghan women.
How we measure our success is simple. If you are successful, then we are successful − together. Every day, you have to plan and execute the strategy for your programs. It is not easy to see how each day of your work has an impact on the women of Afghanistan. And, they have high expectations of you. One day soon, they may know about the Promote program in Afghanistan or about Musharikat which is one of the four components of this program, or they may not know for quite a long time who their champions are. You will be doing things for women behind the scenes: fighting for their rights by advocating for changes or new laws and regulations and raising awareness of harmful traditions. They may not know you, but it is important for you to know them and understand their situation and problems. If people are ordered to do things this way or that way, there will be a negative reaction. But, if people are involved and decide what to do together to solve the problem facing all of them, this is a powerful way to cause change. Keeping this sense of partnership, or “musharikat,” and supporting the other Promote programs generally, is fundamental to your approach.
Many key points have been discussed here, and as a member of the leadership board of Promote along with the other board members present, we, as the government, are committed to doing the most we can to serve you within the framework of the laws of Afghanistan − we will support you.
Delegates, another exceptional opportunity you have besides building coalitions is making connections. What I mean by this is that women delegates from Paktika, Daikundi, Herat, and Badakhshan are getting to know each other through their work together on Musharikat. This helps the government to attain the national unity it seeks, and, with this network established, your achievements in any one area will have impact on all of Afghanistan.
I am sure you have used this opportunity to get to know each other, and knowing one another will strengthen the national unity and commitment to attain national goals. Therefore, I congratulate those who organized, participated in and supported this event.
I commit to you all now, that when you come before the ministers' council – either referred via the Promote Board or directly asking for attention − and ask for assistance to perform your activities, we promise to give the highest priority to your demands. I just want to be clear that being here today does not mean just listening to you for a while at this event and then forgetting what we have heard and what we are going to hear. No, we are here to, on the one hand, represent the commitment of NUG at the highest level to women’s issues and, on the other, and more importantly, to learn from you about how we can better work to achieve national goals.
Undoubtedly, there have been achievements, and we do not underestimate them. There are also still many challenges that face us. We have to understand that only together, through our joint commitment, can we handle the challenges ahead. Problems should not keep us from moving forward. When you return home to your towns, you will be asked - primarily by your families – about this big meeting in Kabul. Give them the good news and tell them the achievements you have made with your new coalitions. Realize that people will have more expectations from you now − you represent your people. Consider when Promote Musharikat is working with 5000 activists, 50 CSOs and 75,000 women, you have to think of that as a first step to reaching half of the population and then move on to all the people in Afghanistan, all of whom are awaiting the results of your work.
Therefore, you have to understand, and I am sure you do, that your responsibility is now far more than it was yesterday. You are the generation that has to take on and solve serious problems in order to leave a better inheritance for the next generation. My generation, which is now the older generation, has had to address many challenges since we were born. There were coups, one after another, then occupation, war, and then terrorism – one on top of the other.
So, we can look at these challenges from two perspectives. We can say that this is a difficult situation, that we cannot make it better, and, therefore, go and do other things. Or, we can say that, although the situation is very difficult, it is we who have the responsibility to improve the situation, and others may not have such an opportunity. It is we who have to be present, lead others and energetically work using our physical and intellectual ability to bring needed change and reform in society. Positive changes and reforms can be brought about, but not just by imagination, hope and slogans. There is a need for practical steps to be taken by everyone in this country.
As you head back to your provinces or activities here in Kabul, you have a responsibility to move forward with your new sense of partnership, good companionship and citizenship. I hope you learn from one another and help each other.
I leave you with a wish for a better future for all of us. Thank you.