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04 December 2001

4 December 2001

Following is the message of Secretary-General Kofi Annan to the Afghan Women’s Summit for Democracy, being held in Brussels 4 to 5 December, delivered today on his behalf by Angela King, Special Adviser to the Secretary-General on Gender Issues and the Advancement of Women:

This is a meeting of profound importance and great promise, not only to the future of Afghan women, but also to the future of all Afghanistan’s women, men and children.

You have come together to recall the plight of Afghan women -– a plight that for several years has been an affront to all standards of dignity, equality and humanity.

You have come together to remind the world of the strength of Afghan women -– the women who used to make up such a large share of the country’s doctors, teachers and government workers; the women who used to hold elected office; the women who have kept their families going in the face of extreme hardship; the women who have confronted deprivation and discrimination of the worst kind with ingenuity and courage of the noblest kind.

You have come together to reassert the rights of Afghan women -– the right to participate actively in all sectors and levels of society and in all stages of the work to bring peace and development to your country.

In that mission, you have the full and unstinting support of the United Nations. Our Charter proclaims the equal rights of men and women. Last year’s groundbreaking United Nations Security Council resolution 1325 called for an end to impunity for war crimes committed against women and girls, but also recognized the need to increase women’s role in peace negotiations and in peace-building.

We in the United Nations are urging the Afghan parties to bring women into every stage of the political process; and we are recruiting Afghan women as quickly as we can to help us provide humanitarian assistance. I am pleased to say that many Afghan women have already registered with United Nations agencies to return to their old jobs. We hope we will be able to rely on the expertise and initiative of Afghan men and women in the longer-term effort to rebuild and rehabilitate your nation.

Your country is now embarking on a process to create credible and accountable institutions in which all Afghans are represented. These are decisions for Afghan men and women to make. The role of the United Nations is to assist and encourage this process. But, I would like to take this opportunity to say to all Afghans: there cannot be true peace and recovery in Afghanistan without a restoration of the rights of women.

Allow me therefore to recall the words of a member of an Afghan women's group, one of the many unsung heroines of our time: "Society is like a bird. It has two wings. And a bird cannot fly if one wing is broken." I offer my full encouragement to all of you here, and to your sisters inside Afghanistan, as you work towards a society that reflects the unbroken strength and spirit of its women, and the full and equal measure of their rights.

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