“Afghanistan has to take its future in its own hands”

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Afghanistan has to take its future in its own hands
declares President Hamid Karzai

President Hamid Karzai thanked the Director-General for UNESCO’s contribution to Afghanistan, notably in the fields of education and culture.

“I congratulate you for your leadership to stand up for girls’ education. Through your initiative for Malala, I hope you will continue to speak up for the education of girls of Afghanistan and Pakistan”, which he defined as most challenging.

afghanistan karsai may 2013Affirming that gender equality is the big issue of the 21st century, the Director-General commended President Karzai on the considerable progress achieved in enhancing literacy and girls’ education, and assured him of UNESCO’s continued support and engagement in Afghanistan up to the elections in April 2014 and beyond. “Providing education to girls and women is not against religious beliefs. It enhances their opportunities to contribute to the development of their societies, to feel an integral part of them, and to benefit their families.”

President Karzai acknowledged progress in achieving education and literacy in the country but stressed it still represented a “drop in the ocean” as the great majority of girls are uneducated “staying behind the walls of their homes.”

“Education is the only way forward, there is no shortcut, if we do it properly it will get us back on time”.

afghanistan crbst_soraia_20afghanPresident Karzai went on recalling that Afghanistan had been a pioneer for women’s rights in the Muslim world, referring to the first Queen of Afghanistan, Princess Suraya, who used to show ‘herself unveiled‘ in 1920. Conservatism was promoted in resistance to the Western influence.

The Director-General voiced the concern expressed earlier during the day by women Parliamentarians and by the Women’s Media Association over possible setbacks for women after the 2014 elections, and she emphasized that women need to be given self-assurance as full members of their communities and societies. She further stressed the challenges in changing mindsets and traditions.

Turning to the rich cultural heritage in Afghanistan, Irina Bokova noted that “Afghanistan embeds an Eldorado of archaeological assets” and appealed to President Karzai to preserve the millenary cultural heritage from destruction in the name of the modernization of the country.

“Countries across the world strive to reconcile modernity and preservation of their cultural heritage assets”.

“The cultural heritage of Afghanistan will be the future economic and social asset of your country, it will provide self-confidence and pride to the people of Afghanistan”, declared Irina Bokova.

President Karzai expressed great appreciation for the planned visit to the World Heritage site of Bamiyan by the Director-General the day after, referring to the “magnificence of this iconic site still very much inhabited by the presence of the two giant Buddhas despite their having been destroyed by the Taliban Regime in 2001.”

“We are a place of 3 religions, the Greek, the Buddhist, and the Islamic. We are at the crossroads of several civilizations. This country has – when and if peace will come – a great deal to offer to the world’s culture through the exploration of former civilizations”.

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“Afghanistan has paid a heavy high price during the last three decades in losing great parts of its cultural heritage due to the long internal conflict. We want to make this country visible again through its culture by regaining the pride towards our own past and our culture”. He further emphasized the need to re-educate the people of Afghanistan towards a greater appreciation of its culture and deplored the size of the Afghan diaspora and the negative image of Afghanistan depicted by certain foreign media featuring war-related images to the detriment of showing “the positive works of the history of Afghanistan. Media do not show the culture and history of Afghanistan but what Afghanistan is not. They show our suffering as our culture”.

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In this context, President Karzai invited the Director-General to return to the country on the occasion of the celebrations of the birth of Nowruz in Afghanistan, in 2014.

Afghanistan does not want to be a burden to the international community, it has to take its future in its own hands and start looking after himself” concluded President Hamid Karzai referring to the post-elections time.

Journalists belonging to the Afghan Women Journalists’ Association urged UNESCO to play a leading role in supporting Afghanistan’s transformation after 2014, the date when most peacekeeping forces are expected to withdraw and national elections are to be organized.

On 17 May, UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova met in Kabul with the Association, founded in 2005 by Ms Shafiqa Habibi and now counting 350 members in five provinces.

036_thumb-2“Our greatest challenge is the lack of capacity – many journalists have no professional training. In some provinces there are no women journalists,” said Ms Habibi, whose Association conducts training workshops for women journalists across the country.

“We are also afraid that women won’t participate in the elections. This is why we are now developing projects to run workshops for all women journalists, to encourage them to cover the issues.”

According to Ms Sharifa Zurmati, a journalist who became one of 68 Afghan women to win a seat in the country’s Wolesi Jirga, the Lower House of Parliament, there are 2400 women journalists working across the country. “We have been able to bring tremendous changes in the last decade, we have made great gains in freedom of expression and we don’t want to lose these gains,” said Ms Zurmati. “We hope that UNESCO will play a lead role in putting pressure on the world community to keep supporting Afghanistan and Afghan women after 2014.”

Women face tremendous challenges in breaking through conservative traditions: at least 300 have been forced to leave their jobs in recent years during to insecurity, says Ms Zurmati. Ms Sohayla Waziri, a student in her third year of journalism studies at Kabul University, said that the first challenge is to break down barriers about women’s role. “Society tells us that this is not a good job for a girl, that only men can do it, that our religion is against it. But we know how honorable this profession is. We are messengers for innocent women who are under the pressure of different ideologies. And after 2014, once I have completed university, will I have the opportunity to work or now?” Ms Nargis Waziri, a student in her fourth year of television journalism, recalls that at the beginning, simply being heard was difficult.

“I always knew that I wanted to form my own ideas and express them, and now my fellow students and teachers respect me.”

The Director-General commended the women for their courage, assuring them of UNESCO’s solid intention to accompany their country and profession. She referred to UNESCO’s expertise in journalism training in transition settings and election-related overage. “We are looking to expand our support in the run up to 2014 and beyond,” said Ms Bokova, insisting also on the importance of gender-sensitive reporting. “How journalists speak about different aspects of women in society, whether in terms of language, politics, family, education, rights, health – all this contributes to slowly changing mentalities, and to showing that an educated woman has benefits for the entire family and society.” She pledged to seek support for training workshops to build up the capacity of journalists to report on elections.

Information thanks to UNESCO

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