New UNDP project zeroes in on gender inequality in Afghanistan

16 Nov 2012

imageThe Afghan Minister of Women's Affairs, Hussn Banu Ghazanfar, and UNDP's Associate Administrator, Rebeca Grynspan, sign a new gender equality project, Kabul. (Photo: UNDP)

Kabul — On a two-day visit to Afghanistan this week, UNDP Associate Administrator Rebeca Grynspan launched a US$ 30 million project to promote gender equality by improving access to legal services and economic opportunities for women as well as strengthening the Government’s Ministry of Women’s Affairs’ efforts to improve the situation of women in Afghanistan

In a meeting with the Afghan Minister of Women’s Affairs, Ms. Hussn Banu Ghazanfar, and representatives from Afghan women’s associations, Grynspan listened to the concerns of women in the conflict-ridden country.

They pinpointed better security, legal protection from violence and discrimination as their top concerns. Economic opportunities, political participation, better access to education and other basic community services were also high on the agenda.

Civil society representatives said that they want to play a more active part in peace negotiations, but need to improve their negotiation skills. But many feared that the issue of sustaining a peaceful Afghanistan may be far more challenging than it is to reach a peace-agreement. Women also worry that compromises made in the ongoing peace-building process may lead to a roll-back of their rights.

“We can’t afford to let go of the gains we have already made,” said Ghazanfar.

On the country’s elections scheduled for 2014, one representative said she is proud of the high proportion of women in parliament--the constitution requires a minimum of 25 percent women members of parliament--but that female representation at other levels of society must also be strengthened, along with the active participation of women in the election process.

“Every time we look away, women’s participation in politics decreases, so we have to be vigilant,” said Grynspan.

Another top priority is legal protection for women. Statistics indicate that there has been an increase in violence against women over the past year. Building on results achieved so far, the new project aims to expand access to legal services to 5,500 women who have been affected by gender-based violence in each of 19 Afghan provinces. In addition, 52 legal help centers for women will be established, and 40 training sessions for religious leaders, judges, and police officers will be held in order to promote gender-sensitivity.

These services are complemented by activities supported through the UNDP-managed Law and Order Trust Fund, which also helps provide legal guidance and support for victims of gender-based violence. Currently, 33 Family Response Units providing such services are in operation throughout the country. An additional 50 units will soon be established. The Family Response Units are mainly staffed by female police officers recruited with support of the same trust fund. So far, a total of 1,400 female police officers have been recruited as members of the Afghan National Police Force—forming part of a wider effort to strengthen the police force through training and managing regular salary payments for nearly 140,000 police officers throughout the country.

“The complementarities of these two programmes are important because you can integrate more and more women to fight violence,” said Grynspan.

Creating economic opportunities for women is also a key issue on the agenda. Through the new gender equality project, about 300 women entrepreneurs will each year receive assistance in establishing their own businesses, with a total of nearly 1,000 new women entrepreneurs established by 2015. According to government statistics, there are currently only 458 registered women entrepreneurs in Afghanistan.

“Having an income equals respect,” said one of the women’s association representatives.

The new gender equality project will coach women entrepreneurs through the process of establishing their businesses, bringing them one step closer to having a stronger position in their communities.

Contact Information

Trygve Olfarnes, Head of Strategic Communications a.i., UNDP Afghanistan, trygve.olfarnes@undp.org, tel: +93 (0) 791903094