Sustaining Development Gains for Afghan Women

Opening Remarks delivered at Side Event to the UN Security Council Open Debate on Women, Peace and Security

Posted October 28, 2021

In the past 20 years, Afghan women have taken on new roles and built alliances within the country and in the international community.

Photo: UNDP

Excellencies; Distinguished Delegates, dear UN colleagues; civil society and academic partners;

On behalf of UNDP I have the honor of welcoming you to this event today as we mark the 21st anniversary of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325. I thank Ambassador Trine Heimerback of Norway and Ambassador Hyunjoo Oh of Republic of Korea for co-organizing the event and championing the UN’s work on Women, Peace, and Security.

In the past two decades, the Women, Peace and Security Agenda has played a crucial role in empowering and protecting the lives of women living in crisis contexts. Given that by 2030, an estimated one in four people will live in crisis, and knowing that women have been disproportionally impacted, support for this agenda remains urgent.

Today we are marking the “coming-of-age” of a remarkable and sustained effort by women peace activists to challenge the United Nations system, governments, donors and ordinary women and men, to include women in every aspect of our efforts to build peace and maintain security in the world.

UNDP’s Women, Peace and Security work is grounded in its continued commitment to accompanying countries in their pathways towards the SDGs. UNDP is a committed partner in advancing both SDG 5, on gender equality, and SDG 16 – particularly in crisis settings. 

We know that supporting those living in crises today helps prevent the crises of tomorrow, and our discussion on sustaining development gains for Afghan women offers us an opportunity, to reflect on why women are crucial in efforts to advance democratic governance, and why this matters for sustainable peace. 

As we enter the third decade of the UN’s WPS work, an estimated half a billion women and girls in 31 countries and territories are living in a state of protracted crisis. Among this number are the women of Afghanistan. Assuring their inclusion, livelihoods, access to justice and security has never been more critical.

UNDP is honored to host this conversation with women’s rights defenders from Afghanistan and other conflict-affected countries.

Freshta Karimi and Asila Wardak, thank you for joining us in this period of personal insecurity, distress and loss, to share your insights as women human rights defenders.

I thank the two women’s rights defenders, Ghida Anani from Lebanon and Samah Krichah from Tunisia, who will share their insights and experiences of sustaining development initiatives that include women, girls, men and boys, continuing to bring hope in crisis.

Our focus today is on sustaining Afghan women’s development gains.

Among these is that Afghan women’s life expectancy grew from 56 years in 2001 to 66 in 2017. This gain is largely due to a significant decline in mortality during childbirth.  The decline is largely attributable to an unprecedented number of girls accessing primary – and even secondary and tertiary – education.

It can also be credited to the increasing inclusion of Afghan women in the public sector. By 2020, 21 percent of Afghan civil servants were women, compared with almost none before 2001.  The overall labor force participation rate for women in 2019 was 29.2% against 18.8 % in 2000.

These are all significant gains.

But they stand to be reversed without concerted effort and cooperation by the international community. And if Afghan women and girls do lose these gains, the welfare of whole communities will decline.

I also think particularly of Afghanistan’s young people: 63.7% of Afghans are under the age of 25. How will excluding half of these young people help Afghanistan cope in a time of drought and other signs of escalating climate crisis, as the COVID pandemic continues to exact its toll?

We must continue to keep Afghanistan’s women at the top of the global Women, Peace and Security agenda.

This means we must find ways to channel human and financial resources to women and young people so that they can make contributions to their nation’s wellbeing wherever possible.

We are painfully aware of the threat that 97% of the Afghan population now faces a steeper decline into poverty.  

With UN and non-governmental organization partners, UNDP launched the ABADEI initiative last week. The name means resilience and hope for a better future in several local languages. As an Area Based Programme, it focuses on cash-based interventions to maintain livelihoods and strengthening community-level solutions which complement urgent humanitarian interventions.

UNDP, through its gender and crisis facility, has already provided gender expertise to support the ABADEI initiative. Initial assessments are underway to identify safe entry points, aligned with the SDGs, to advance women’s economic empowerment, and seek ways to continue our work in addressing normative barriers that hold back real advancement for Afghan women. UNDP can harness experiences from around the globe to advance these important transformative programmes in a challenging and restrictive environment.

To conclude,

As we all know, the first SDG is to end poverty; yet impoverishment disempowers Afghan women even more insidiously than official discrimination does.  In partnership with Afghan women and other UN entities, UNDP commits to deliver support directly to beneficiaries, building resilience and creating the conditions for peace.

I look forward to hearing the experiences and aspirations of our panelists.  UNDP knows that without women’s full engagement there will be no sustainable peace and no sustainable development.

Thank you.


Learn more about the perspectives of Afghan women's rights defenders by reading “I can’t stay quiet and watch”, In their own words: Afghan women activists share their challenges living through conflict and their hopes for the future.