AFGHANISTAN: UNFPA workshop promotes women leaders
Afghan women are slowly emerging from beneath the burqa
Kabul, 4 May 2004 (IRIN) - The United Nations Population Fund - UNFPA early last week hosted a five-day international training workshop to address issues of women in leadership in the post-conflict country.
Dozens of women from NGOs, civil society groups and heads of departments of the Afghan Ministry of Women's Affairs attended the UNFPA-initiated programme, "Training workshop on leadership, media and conflict management".
"The workshop aimed at accomplishing the task of supporting women especially in conflict and post-conflict situations," Maria Pia Dradi, UNFPA chief of operations told IRIN at the end of the workshop last Wednesday. Dradi said the event was held in Afghanistan as the first follow-up to a Global Training Workshop on Capacity Building for NGOs in conflict/post-conflict situations held in the Slovak capital, Bratislava, in November 2002.
UNFPA said it was very important and yet challenging in male-dominated post-conflict Afghan society to enhance women's ability to face reality, to defend themselves and enable them to contribute to the restoration of peace in the country.
However, as there are few women in such leadership positions as ministers, heads of civil service departments and NGOs, and the war-ravaged country has the lowest rate of literacy among women, there is a long way to go to ensure gender equality in leadership and senior managerial positions.
Afghan women's affairs minister, Dr Habiba Sarabi, told IRIN that the workshop had underlined the problems and challenges of raising women to leadership positions and ways of tackling those problems. But the minister believed it required much time and long-term programmes to ensure a gender balance in the activities of government and civil societies.
"We have two big challenges. The first is that women's qualifications are lower [than men's] - we have few women with doctorates or masters degrees. The second is that this male-dominated society cannot accept a women in a leadership position," Sarabi said. The minister added that the government was taking the issue of gender more seriously this year, creating a specific budget for gender in her ministry. "In the next three years, we are working to create gender units in every ministry to maintain gender mainstreaming in every policy and strategy," she noted.
According to UNFPA, international trainers with expertise in post-conflict countries were invited to address the workshop. Dradi said the UN agency was planning to expand the initiative outside Kabul to empower women for leadership and raise gender awareness in rural areas. "We will give training to women that already have some skills and some capacity," she said.
Sarabi said workshops like this were vital for raising and addressing gender issues in her country, with its conservative communities mostly influenced by warlords and local militia commanders. "I think there are quite a lot of women in leadership positions in the cabinet, state institutions and NGOs in the capital Kabul, which is unique in the third post-conflict year," Sarabi said, whilst emphasising that women would continue to suffer from gender discrimination in the provinces if the disarmament of local militia was not fully implemented throughout the country.