Originally published on Indian Empire (March 2017, Vol. 12 No. 10)

 

''Educating girls doesn't only mean educating the entire family but the whole nation"

 

We had last interviewed H.E. Dr Shaida Mohammad Abdali, Afghanistan's Ambassador to India, in our October 2015 edition. This time the focus of our interview was centered around women's empowerment, a key subject that Afghanistan is grappling with at the moment. Ambassador Abdali put things in perspective in this interview with  Editor  and Publisher Sayantan Chakravarty

 

Q: In April 2016, the New York Times wrote that Western efforts to improve the lives of Afghan women in sports had failed conspicuously. But there seems to be a lot going on within Afghanistan itself to allow women greater opportunities in sports. Your views please…

 

A: On the contrary, Afghan girls have been making head­ ways in sport since Taliban was driven from power in 2001. Girls teams at the national level have been formed in various fields in sport, there are now national female boxing team, national women's cricket team and a national female football (soccer) team, Afghan Women's cycling team, not to mention their active participation in martial arts such as Kung Fu, Taekwondo and Wushu. Afghan girls competed in sport at regional and national level; Tahmina Kohistani is an example who participated in Olympics 2012.

 

Q: What steps are being taken to improve formal education and literacy among girls in Afghanistan? In India they say that if you educate a girl, you end up educating an entire family. Do you agree with this point of view?

 

A: Absolutely, the Afghan government attaches great importance in educating girls because we believe educating girls doesn't only mean educating the entire family but the whole nation and the future of our country. Unfortunately more than four decades incessant conflict in Afghanistan badly affected education, more so girls' education as girls were completely banned from formal education under the Taliban regime. That is why the government is taking girls' education seriously and has been doing everything within their means to improve girls' access to education. Data suggests that significant progress has been made in this regard as the percentage of girls attending school has risen from nearly zero in 2001 to 37% of the total students attending schools.

The Ministry of Education has been implementing the National Literacy Program to raise literacy rate to 60% by 2020 on national level which is now somewhere above 36% with more focus on girls and women to address the gender parity in literacy rate.

 

Q: The average life expectancy of an Afghan woman is low. What efforts are being taken by the present Government to address this important issue?

 

A: In general, we can see tangible improvement in women's status in Afghanistan comparing to 15 years back. ,according to Afghanistan's Ministry of Public Health estimated life expectancy for women has risen to 62-64 as compared to the past which was estimated between 47-5O years. Improving Women's situation in Afghanistan has been a priority for Afghan government; both the president and the chief executive have laid stress on this issue in their remarks on many occasions. The result from the latest health survey conducted   by   Ministry   of    Public   Health   shows   that Afghanistan had made notable progress in health sector. As per the survey over 60 percent of the Afghan people now have access to basic health services, to increase access to health care services to 75 percent, the ministry is working to create 300 new health care centers. Steps are being taken to raise awareness among women about their health especially birth related issues and encourages them to use the health care provided by the government.

 

Q: Due to risk factors caused by war over the last three decades, the incidence of very young girls that arc married away by families has been high. Reversing this must be an enormous challenge before Afghanistan's society. Your views please ...

 

A: As I said the Afghan government is committed to improve women's status in all spheres of life be it health, social, poli6cs or economic. Despite the challenges that still hamper women progress, things have dramatically changed for women.

Afghan government ratified the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women in 2003 which automatically repeals all sort of erroneous practices against women and Afghan government along with international NGO's as part of their efforts for protecting women's rights, have been raising awareness among people to do away with practices that violate women's rights. Reversing this overnight is very difficult task but Afghanistan is making steady progress in this regard.

 

Q: What steps are being taken to help Afghanistan's 1.5 million widows, most of them under the age of 35?

 

A: Decades of imposed war in Afghanistan has left large number of war widows. To help this widows the Afghan government is paying a monthly allowance to the wives of demised soldiers and conducts vocational training program with the support of some NGOs to make the widows self-sustaining.

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