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Corporate best practices in a Post-Conflict setting
Remarks made by Ambassador Said T. Jawad

Mexico City, Mexico

Distinguished panelists, ladies and gentlemen:

I am honored to be on this panel, addressing successful business women from around the globe. I have never been in a room with so many beautiful people. I would like to thank the Global Summit on Women, especially my friend Irene Natividad, for extending a very warm welcome to the delegation from Afghanistan.

As Afghanistan’s Ambassador to Mexico, I am especially proud that Afghan women are participating in such an important global event in Mexico City. Members of our delegation: Mina Sharitol, Nilab Sadat, Sara Rahmani, Malaly Jawad, Laila Arab and Mariam Nawabi are extraordinary women who have achieved success despite colossal challenges. They lived through war, violence and the Taliban rule, either inside Afghanistan or as refugees. But they never gave up on their dreams. Today, two years after starting their companies, they are looking at how to export their products globally. They are living examples of the determination and success for women all over the world.

Before I address the issue of good corporate practices in post-conflict settings, please allow me to briefly discuss the background of women’s social, political and economic rights in Afghanistan.

The Soviet invasion of 1979 and the ensuing war and violence were major setbacks for Afghan women. The war took away their sons and their husbands and their human rights. While we were able to push back the Red Army with the assistance of the United States and the West, we fell victim to a parallel invasion of extremism in Afghanistan. Many foreign sources and institutions either actively propelled extremism as an instrument to fight Communism, or simply ignored it. And in the midst of all this, Afghan women endured unspeakable horrors.

After the Soviet withdrawal, the international community pursued a policy of disengagement and the Afghan people were left alone to deal with an enormous amount of weapons and extremism infused into a small, devastated country. This policy had costly consequences for Afghanistan and the global security. Al-Qaeda and the Taliban took our people and our country hostage. Afghan women were the prime victims of terror. They lost most of their basic rights. The 9-11 tragedy brought about the reengagement of the international community in Afghanistan.

The United States led the War on Terror with the full participation of the Afghan people. Afghan women, in partnership with the Afghan government and the international community, started to regain their human rights and rebuild the country. This partnership has significant results for our people.

Today, our schools are overflowing with boys and girls eager to learn. 5.6 million boys and girls are going to school and Afghan women are determined to acquire education as is demonstrated by the Logar School. Women have returned to the workplace. Our towns and villages are alive and flourishing with activity and business.

As a result, over the last three years, our economy grew by an average of 16% per year. We have introduced a new currency and adopted new laws to enhance the rights of women and to attract investment in Afghanistan.

Our new Constitution, which was drafted and adopted with the very active participation of Afghan women, provides for equal rights and full participation of Afghan women. Women are once again serving as ministers, governors and commissioners. 38% of all voters in our first national election in over 5,000 years history of Afghanistan – were women. Dr. Masuda Jalal made history by running for the presidency of the country.

Parliamentary elections are scheduled for September of this year. 5,950 candidates have registered for the parliamentary and provincial elections, of which 617 are women. Under the new constitution, 27% of Parliamentary seats are allocated to women.

I was a member of a number of Grand National assemblies that elected the President and adopted the new constitution in Afghanistan. It was very evident that women were the most democratic, the most patriotic, the most anti-war, and the most anti-violence. The women of Afghanistan constituted the most constructive and unified voting block in each assembly.

While the legal infrastructure to enhance the rights of women are established, true gender equality can only be achieved by providing women with education and proper access to jobs and capital. Some of the cultural impediments that women are facing cannot be changed by decree. It will, however, be changed by education. Thus, Afghan women need more resources for education and training.

We consider the private sector to be the driving force of economic development. Women are an important part of the sector. We have taken significant steps to promote private investment. We have created the Afghan Investment Support Agency as a one-stop shop to facilitate and promote investment. We established three new industrial parks. We also passed new investment and Banking laws. So far, more than eleven foreign banks have opened offices in Afghanistan.

The Government of Afghanistan, with the assistance of the United States Agency for International Development, also established an Entrepreneurship Development Office for Afghan women. Mrs. Mina Sherzoy, who is here with us today, was instrumental in promoting female entrepreneurship. Under her leadership, many Afghan women have been given access to computers, English language and basic business training. Mrs. Sherzoy also helped to establish the Afghan Women’s Business Association, the first of its kind in Afghanistan. A number of similar business women’s associations have now been launched and are emerging into the Afghan Business Women’s Federation. Through this organization, women will have an organized way to network, promote good corporate practices and make their voices heard to policy makers.

Good corporate practices are crucial for enhancing the rights of women in post-conflict societies. A challenge that most post conflict countries face is lack of good laws, which can be easily overcome by adopting new laws.

The much bigger challenge is how to educate the people about their rights under the new laws and how to implement those laws. When corporations volunteer to either adhere to the law, or even better, to provide protections above and beyond the law – they truly safeguard all involved, especially women in business.

Given the focus of this panel, I share examples of how good corporate practices have made positive impacts on womens’ economic and social development in Afghanistan. A number of corporations have invested in Afghan women by creating partnerships and business opportunities with them. Such partnerships provide for a level playing field especially where legal protection may not be adequate or simply ignored. Thus, industry self-regulation and social responsibility are very important in order to truly create a level playing field for women in Afghanistan.

Adopting fair labor standards is one example of good corporate practices that have been implemented by a number of companies and non governmental organizations. We have fairly good labor laws. However, we can not enforce labor standards due to lack of institutional capacity and resources. To fill this vacuum, responsible corporations are becoming their own enforcers.

Hiring practices is another example of how good corporate practices have been increasing employment opportunities for women. For example, Afghan Wireless and Communication Company, which is one of the corporate sponsors of the Afghan delegation, alongside with Bearing Points, is implementing a nondiscrimination employment policy. They have trained and hired many Afghan women as technicians and customer service representatives.

The last example I would like to share is the use of employee benefits. A number of corporations provide for in-job training and many include child care facilities in their programs for women – which are not required by current Afghan laws.

Our experience shows that many successful companies have recognized that Afghan women faced monumental challenges and were deprived of education and professional training under the Taliban. Therefore, women need additional assistance to become competitive. Companies volunteer to fully implement the laws or even set standards that are better than those provided by the laws of the country.

Ladies and Gentlemen:

Despite the historic achievements, Afghan women are realistic about their challenges. The Afghan women are not out of the woods yet. The effects of massive destruction caused by 25 years of war are very much present in our country. Afghanistan is still among the poorest countries of the world. We have one of the highest infant mortality and maternal mortality rates and one of the lowest life expectancy rates in the world. We have high levels of illiteracy, particularly among women. Although millions of children are back in school, only 29% of schools are in buildings – many are outside or under a tent. Women can return to the workplace, but capital and investment is needed in order to train them and create the jobs to re-absorb them.

The people of Afghanistan have placed their trust, in the benefit of partnership, with the international community. We greatly appreciate all of the assistance provided to us by our friends all over the world – especially the United States, Japan and Germany. With your support and through greater private investment, public-private partnerships, more resources for education and training and partnerships with companies owned by Afghan women, we will overcome the challenges that Afghan women are facing.

Thank You.