Tokyo: US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made a powerful plea on Sunday for the rights of women in Afghanistan, using a global forum to insist that they must be part of the country’s future growth.
“The United States believes strongly that no nation can achieve peace, stability and economic growth if half the population is not empowered,” she told the Tokyo conference on Afghanistan.
Clinton said the way forward for Afghanistan “must include fighting corruption, improving governance, strengthening the rule of law, access to economic opportunity for all Afghans, especially for women”.
“All citizens need to have the chance to benefit from and contribute to Afghanistan’s progress. The United States will continue to stand strongly by the women of Afghanistan.”
She was addressing a world conference aiming to chart a way forward for the nation after Nato combat troops leave in 2014.
The talks have already raised pledges of $16 billion (Dh58 billion) in civilian aid for the conflict-torn nation over the next four years.
Representatives from more than 80 nations and international organisations gathering in the Japanese capital are expected to adopt the “Tokyo Declaration”, pledging support and cash for Kabul.
Clinton told the meeting the administration of US President Barack Obama would be asking Congress to agree to keep American civilian assistance to Afghanistan at or near current levels until 2017.
“We need to put the commitments together in order to achieve a future that is worthy of the sacrifice of the Afghan people and many nations represented around this table,” Clinton said.
Washington says significant progress has been made on women’s rights since the US-led invasion of 2001 toppled the Taliban, with the numbers of girls attending schools soaring and more women gaining employment.
According to figures provided by the US State Department, out of the eight million students enrolled in schools today, nearly 40 per cent are girls. That contrasts sharply with 2002 when there were only 900,000 children in schools, virtually none of them girls.
The US says there are now 175,000 teachers in Afghanistan, about a third of them women, thanks to $316 million in education initiatives.
But many fear those gains for women are under threat as Nato troops leave and Kabul seeks peace with Islamist insurgents.
In March, Afghan President Hamid Karzai endorsed an edict by the country’s highest Islamic authority saying women were worth less than men and should avoid mixing with men.
There have also been reported mysterious incidents of female students being taken to hospitals across Afghanistan after falling ill from suspected gas attacks or water poisoning.