Afghan Women: A Vital Force for Peace, Stability, and Economic Progress

Posted by Melanne Verveer
September 19, 2011
Afghan Girls Seen Through Hole in an Iron Pole in Kabul

Recently I had the pleasure of joining U.S. Ambassador to the Kingdom of the Netherlands, Fay Hartog Levin, and a diverse and engaging assemblage of Afghans, Dutch, and Americans in The Hague for an important and timely conference entitled, "Empowering Women in Afghanistan: Stability Through Rural Development." The United States and The Netherlands share over 400 years of strong diplomatic ties and this opportunity brought us together to emphasize the critical need to continue supporting the vital role of Afghan women in peace, security, and economic development processes.

The conference, hosted by the U.S. Embassy, The Hague, in partnership with the Atlantic Commission, welcomed a full house of approximately 130 government officials, parliamentarians, diplomats, students, academics, and media representatives. In its interactions with the wide range of conference panelists and speakers the audience raised the ongoing challenges for women and girls in Afghanistan, challenges with which we all are too familiar.

As levels of assistance to Afghanistan begin to decrease, targeted investment becomes ever more critical for the country's stability. This is particularly the case in areas related to economic development such as agriculture, where one-third of Afghanistan's economy is represented. In The Hague we discussed the extremely important role women are playing in all dimensions of agriculture, including in livestock production, processing of dairy products, and contributions to a number of marketed products. For every dollar a woman earns, up to 90 percent of it is reinvested in her family and in her community.

Dutch Foreign Minister Uri Rosenthal and I had an excellent meeting prior to the conference where we discussed a range of issues, including the importance of ensuring women are included at the decision-making tables. The Foreign Minister strongly relayed this sentiment when he later spoke at the conference: "It's not just political decision-making,” he explained. "We're talking about leverage. The word is 'power.' That's what it is all about.” Afghan women want to be part of their country's power sharing and thereby contribute to the stability and prosperity of Afghanistan. This is not a favor to Afghan women, but rather it is a necessity for Afghanistan to sustain full economic growth and security. Any potential for peace will be subverted if women's voices are silenced or marginalized.

I am inspired every day by the courageous women leaders of Afghanistan, two of whom played an active role at the conference. Palwasha Kakar, Deputy Minister in the Afghan Ministry of Women's Affairs and Palwasha Hassan, representing the Afghan Women's Network, exemplified the strength of women leaders in powerful positions coming together to make a difference for their country. And we will continue our commitment to them, to their country, and to the region as we and the Afghans make progress on a new strategic partnership and build stronger economic ties through South and Central Asia, ties which will include women having access to equal economic opportunities -- alongside men.

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