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Afghan women on the street
Editorial credit: Lizette Potgieter /

STATEMENT: Do not forsake Afghan women’s rights in the name of stability

A statement on the situation in Afghanistan from Kofi Annan Foundation Executive Director Corinne Momal-Vanian. 

Twenty years ago, when he received the Nobel Peace Prize, Kofi Annan started his speech as follows: “Today, in Afghanistan, a girl will be born. Her mother will hold her and feed her, comfort her and care for her – just as any mother would anywhere in the world. In these most basic acts of human nature, humanity knows no divisions. But to be born a girl in today’s Afghanistan is to begin life centuries away from the prosperity that one small part of humanity has achieved. It is to live under conditions that many of us in this hall would consider inhuman.” How tragic that 20 years later, his words should ring so true again.

In many ways, despite the continued fighting and endemic corruption, and although poverty rates remained stubbornly high, daily life did improve for Afghan women and girls – and Afghan men- over the past 20 years.  Women’s life expectancy increased from 45.8 in 2002 to 54.4 in 2019, and their literacy rate improved from 13% in 2000 to 30% in 2018. By 2018, 50,000 young Afghan women were enrolled in university.[1] In the cities, many women courageously assumed jobs as administrators, journalists, teachers, doctors, despite being sometimes targeted by assassins. All these gains have been wiped out in just a few weeks, and there are credible reports emerging from all regions of the country that female students are being thrown out of schools and women asked to give up their jobs and that others have been flogged in the streets. Humanitarian agencies tell us that 75 per cent of Afghans in need are now women and girls.[2]

Choosing between human rights and peace is always a mistake. Afghanistan deserves both.

After so many efforts, the world must not abandon Afghanistan. We cannot accept as fate that Afghan women and girls be subjected once again to the direst forms of discrimination and cruelty. It is an affront to our humanity, but it is also a recipe for further chaos and poverty. Kofi Annan also told us that “Gender equality is more than a goal in itself. It is a precondition for meeting the challenge of reducing poverty, promoting sustainable development, and building good governance.”

As the UN Security Council meets to discuss Afghanistan, it must send a clear message that the new rulers in Afghanistan will be held accountable for how they treat all Afghan men and women, Sunnis and Shias, Pashtuns and Tajiks, Hazaras, Uzbeks and others.

Choosing between human rights and peace is always a mistake. Afghanistan deserves both.

[1] Afghanistan Index – Brookings

[2] How Can I help Afghanistan?