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Gaps in Afghan women education are solvable: Astana Afghan Women Conference

(By Dr Shahid Qureshi ): –

I said to a Chinese military officer in a lighter mood few weeks ago: “you (China) were building walls with the Central Asians before but now you are building roads, rails and bridges’. That’s a change and we both laughed.

It seems that like Chinese policy, the three steps foreign and strategic policy and vision of the President of Kazakhstan is taking shape in terms of priority and engagement with the neighboring (Russia, China, CARs) regional Afghanistan, Azerbaijan Pakistan, Iran, Turkey and internationally EU and USA. It is more of modernization of foreign policy as well as keeping in close contact with the culture and religious roots. Astana seems to be becoming a bridge with all the parties who has war designs like USA and NATO or economic vision like China.

Let’s not forget that it was Afghanistan where the foundations of the breakup of Soviet Union after 1979 invasion and independence of Central Asian States were laid, which resulted in re-connection with Pakistan, Iran and Turkey. Peace in this region is directly linked with the peace in Afghanistan.

The initiative by Kazakhstan to support the already suffering Afghan women by holding an international “Empowering Women in Afghanistan”, conference on 5th September 2018 in Astana, is much appreciated and admired.

Afghan women were very modern and educated prior to the Soviet invasion. Sadly, all that was lost in the great game of the former and new imperialist powers who keep going to Afghanistan to die in shame. Well that’s the history. Things are changing now all around.

Here is the text of the Astana Declaration.

Astana Declaration on Empowering Women in Afghanistan

We, the participants of the Regional Conference on “Empowering Women in Afghanistan” held in Astana, gathered here on 5 September 2018 (here in after – Participants),

recalling the international regulations, Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), UN Security Council Resolution 1325 (Women, Peace, and Security) and all follow-up resolutions on Women, Peace and Security, keeping in mind the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), as well as other relevant conventions, resolutions and documents,

relying on strong ties of history and culture, centuries-long bonds of solidarity and regional interaction and cooperation of the Central Asian nations and Afghanistan based on the principles of human rights and general respect, trust and openness, striving to foster a peaceful society for all,

noting with satisfaction the dynamic and progressive development of friendly and mutually beneficial relations between the Central Asian societies and their integration in the global development process, guided by the principles of partnership and mutual support,

expressing the conviction that the development of multi-faceted cooperation with the active participation of women and girls at all stages, at a qualitatively new level, meets the long-term interests and needs of the Central Asian states and Afghanistan, and will also serve as a key factor for ensuring human-centered peace, stability and sustainable development both in Central Asia and in Afghanistan,

acknowledging the importance of effective implementation of women-related national programs in Afghanistan including the Women’s Economic Empowerment Program (WEEP) and the National Action Plan for the Women of Afghanistan (NAPWA), as well as regional initiatives for women’s empowerment including those under Regional Economic Cooperation Conferences on Afghanistan (RECCA) and the Heart of Asia – Istanbul Process (HoA-IP),

acknowledging the important role of women in peace-building and conflict prevention processes and focusing on the empowerment of women in political decision-making and their inclusion in all aspects of development,

reaffirming the commitment to further cooperation of the Central Asian countries and Afghanistan with a particular focus on the inclusion of women and girls in all aspects of international cooperation and development initiatives,

reaffirming that the realization of the right to education, access to quality and inclusive education contributes to the achievement of the gender equality and empowerment of all women and girls in the region,

highlighting that the existing gaps in women and girls education and employment in Afghanistan are solvable, and the current low female labor force participation rate in Afghanistan can be increased through the National Unity Government approaches and policies in place, with the support of regional and international community,

especially if barriers and negative social norms resulting in women’s vulnerability and a low position in a family and society as a key factor for women’s human rights violation are addressed efficiently by the state’s actions and assistance by development partners,

while committing to hold such events in support of women`s empowerment in Afghanistan on a regular basis, including the sharing and use of insights from these events and the engagement in mechanisms of accountability to ensure the impact of all actions taken,

reaffirming that the governments have the primary responsibility for the follow-up of the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) at the regional level,

reaffirming that the promotion and protection of, and respect for, the human rights and fundamental freedoms of women and girls including the rights to development is crucial for women economic empowerment and should be mainstreamed in all policies and programs,

The Participants:

  1. Welcomethe efforts of the Governments of Central Asian states to stabilize the situation and invest in the social and economic development of Afghanistan, stressing that improved living conditions and education of women and girls in Afghanistan will contribute to the country’s economic recovery, creating jobs, countering violent extremism and the appeal of radicalization in the region.
  2. Welcomethe efforts of the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan to further develop necessary policies, legal and institutional environment to foster gender equality as well as actively engage in gender-inclusive actions and express a full support for implementing the Women’s Economic Empowerment Program (WEEP), the National Action Plan on UN Security Council Resolution 1325 (NAP 1325), National Action Plan for the women of Afghanistan (NAPWA), as well as other relevant policy and project documents including under Regional Economic Cooperation Conference on Afghanistan (RECCA).
  3. Stressthe importance of full and meaningful engagement of women in the national reconciliation process, as well as in the social and economic life of Afghanistan and express their continued support for empowering women and girls in Afghanistan.
  4. Call for the enhanced application of existing international norms, standards, commitments and recommendations (CEDAW, SDGs) in Central Asia and Afghanistan.
  5. Stressthe importance of including youth in all peace-building efforts and actively encouraging the empowerment of young women in all sections of society, following the UN Security Council Resolution 2419, to strive for sustainable peace in Afghanistan.
  6. Callon all stakeholders to consider establishing a special advisory body as a regional network of influential women of the region and Afghanistan to ensure women empowerment and their equal participation and contribution across all issues, including political decision-making such as policy negotiations and consultations, economic empowerment, access to education, healthcare and a life free from violence among others.
  7. Callon all stakeholders to assist women-owned SMEs in Afghanistan and the region with value chain development and access to regional and global markets including through connecting them with each other and their inclusion in the supply chains of multinational enterprises to raise their competitiveness.
  8. Callon all stakeholders to develop and introduce innovative approaches and practices to ensure Education for All by active inclusion and promotion of women’s access to education and by addressing structural inequality and obstacles that keep them from accessing education.
  9. Callon all stakeholders to promote women’s economic empowerment in all sectors cooperating with the private sector to leave no woman behind and include them in all levels of employment.
  10. Callon all stakeholders, including financial institutions to consider establishing an exclusive industrial park for women-owned businesses with dedicated infrastructure and employment opportunities in Afghanistan.
  11. Put forward their support for the initiative under RECCA for holding an annual dedicated regional exhibition for women entrepreneurs from Afghanistan and Central Asian countries on a regular basis to maintain business partnerships.
  12. Appreciatethe inclusion of Women’s Economic Empowerment Initiative into RECCA’s agenda and express support to the relevant efforts including those related to women’s entrepreneurship development.
  13. Welcomethe intentions of the Republic of Kazakhstan, the Republic of Uzbekistan and, the European Union in partnership with the UN to launch a pilot project to conduct vocational trainings and educate Afghan women in line with Afghanistan’s National Priority Programs (NPPs) at institutions of higher education in Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan.
  14. Take noteof the Government of Kazakhstan’s readiness to share experience, skills, modern technologies and innovations in the sphere of healthcare.
  15. Appreciatethe decision of the Government of Kazakhstan to allocate a greater number of scholarships for Afghan women during 2019-2020, which is a continuation of Kazakhstan’s initiative to train 1000 Afghan civilian specialists under the special educational program worth 50 million US dollars.
  16. Encourageother donor countries to allocate a greater number of scholarships as well as online courses to Afghan women to contribute significantly to а long-term efforts towards women’s empowerment in Afghanistan, with the focus on women entrepreneurship, education and healthcare.
  17. Welcome the signing of two Memorandums of Understanding between the Afghanistan Women Chamber of Commerce and Industry and Atameken National Chamber of Entrepreneurs’ Business Women Council and Association of Business Women of Kazakhstan.
  18. Express their gratitude to the Government of the Republic of Kazakhstan for the important initiative, hospitality and efforts to ensure successful outcome of the Conference in Astana.
  19. Decideto convene the next Regional Conference on “Empowering Women in Afghanistan” in 2019.


(Dr Shahid Qureshi is senior analyst with BBC and chief editor of The London Post. He writes on security, terrorism and foreign policy. He also appears as analyst on Al-Jazeera, Press TV, MBC, Kazak TV (Kazakhstan), LBC Radio London. He was also international election observer for Azerbaijan April 2018, Kazakhstan 2015 and 2016 and Pakistan 2002. He has written a famous book “War on Terror and Siege of Pakistan” published in 2009. At Government College Lahore he wrote his MA thesis on ‘Political Thought of Imam Khomeini’ and visited Tehran University. He is PhD in ‘Political Psychology’ and studied Law at a British University. He also speaks at Cambridge University. He is a visiting Professor at Hebe University in China.)

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