Long Term Engagement – The Role of Afghan women, International Afghanistan Conference, 5.12.2011 Bonn

Mr. President, Excellencies, Colleagues, Ladies and Gentlemen,

I wish to extend my gratitude to the German government for organizing this significant conference. May I also commend the Afghan government for its commitment and great efforts in working together with the international community towards a common goal: our future engagement in Afghanistan. 

Mr. President,

Peace can only be achieved in the long term through reconciliation and negotiation. Any negotiation process must include the renunciation ofviolence and terrorism and respect the Constitution, including the rights of women and girls.

Coming from a Nordic country I can say, based on our experience, that the full and equal participation of women at all levels of society is not only a prerequisite for democracy and human rights, but also the key to sustainable development, economic success and social stability. 

Democracy and prosperity stand on the pillars of the rule of law, respect for human rights, equality of all, an active civil society and a functioning market economy. All progress should be based on sustainable development and sustainable use of natural resources.

Mr. President,

Finland will increase her development funding for Afghanistan up to 30 million euros in the coming years. This will also include humanitarian aid and support for civilian and development activities through NGOs. In our development co-operation with Afghanistan, we will in particular focus on three main areas:

1) good governance, rule of law and democracy by developing provincial and district governance;  

2) human rights and gender issues including education, with special attention to the education of girls; and

3) strengthening the economy, including improving the capabilities of Afghanistan to use and control the natural resources in a sustainable way, for the benefit of the whole nation.

In the coming years Afghanistan is taking more responsibility for its own security and well-being. While the security transition proceeds, other challenges are also enormous:  creating stronger governance, sustainable economy and better respect for human rights.

There is every reason to be proud of the achievements so far and it is important to keep them: democratic constitution, people willing to give their contribution and vote in difficult circumstances, more education and health care, reconstruction efforts, economic growth and a good beginning for transition. But there is still a long way to go.

Transition means less international presence and it will affect the Afghan economy. At the same time overall responsibilities of Afghanistan will grow. This is why development efforts need to become more intense. National Priority Programs focus the work on the most essential areas. 

The coming years will be most critical, but developing Afghanistan will be a generational effort. There should be no place for terrorism. It is the responsibility of all countries to the region to denounce terrorism.

Our role here in Bonn is to give a strong commitment that we will continue to support Afghanistan in its enormous challenges, and our support will continue beyond 2014.  It is essential that the people of Afghanistan are not left alone through these critical years. A commitment for long term engagement is necessary from all international actors, including the UN, EU and Nato.

There are very good elements in the current strategy. National reconciliation within the Afghan society should ensure that all Afghans engage in efforts in building their own society. National reconciliation should bring confidence in the society. Building regional economies and improving regional security are key elements.

Creating a sustainable society requires better security. But only a society with good governance, respect for human rights and adequate livelihoods for all can be stable and secure in the longer run. Afghanistan can be ultimately developed only by the Afghan society itself. More security, more education and health care, more employment and farming, more respect for human rights, legal protection, better room for initiative and .entrepreneurship – and less corruption and drugs are of utmost importance.

The Afghan government needs to work harder to improve good governance and also speed up reforms at sub-national level. it is the government that is ultimately responsible for the rule of law, transparency, accountability and the fight against corruption. People need to see positive changes in their daily life and they must be able to trust their authorities. The voices of civil society need to be heard and taken very seriously. A strong civil society is a way of creating a healthy, stable society.

Women are the strength of a society. Gender equality is an efficient and proven way of building entire countries. Societies where women enjoy equal rights with men are more successful than those where the status of women is weak.

The recently published World Bank World Development Report 2012, ”Gender Equality and Development” illustrates that improved gender equality has far reaching benefits for economic and human development. Removing inequalities between women and men gives societies a better chance to develop. Gender equality is smart economics: it enhances economic efficiency and improves other development outcomes.

A key out of poverty and a way to a better society lies on education, and educating also all girls is important. Encouraging developments have already taken place. Girls have much better access to basic education now than ten years ago. About a third of schoolchildren are girls. This is a good beginning. Secondary and higher education must be made available for girls, too.

The international community has made a commitment to stand by Afghanistan beyond 2014. It is crucially important that a special attention to women is included in all of our cooperation with Afghanistan.

Mr. President,

As transition proceeds, Finland is shifting her focus step by step from military crisis management towards development aid, civilian crisis management and training.  Finland will respond to the changing needs of Afghanistan by a sizable growth in our development funding, while the troop level gradually decreases as part of the transition in the years 2012-14.

We will start withdrawing our troops next year, and will do it gradually with a shifting emphasis to training and mentoring. It is crucial to continue supporting them so that the progress becomes sustainable and irreversible. Afghanistan’s needs for support will continue also after 2014, including in the security field, in particular in training and mentoring. We will look at our possible future involvement at a later stage. Our total annual ODA funding will grow to approximately 30 million euros in 2014.

Development of a society built on rule of law is a cornerstone for the future of Afghanistan. Civilian policing and especially the EUPOL Afghanistan mission play an important role in this regard. Finland is and will continue to be a strong supporter of the mission.