JAKARTA: Indonesia on Thursday hosted the first international conference to back education for Afghan women who face growing restrictions from the Taliban government, with the Pakistani foreign minister emphasising a greater role for women in decision-making.
Afghan girls and women have been facing growing uncertainty since the Taliban took control of the country last year, with an estimated 3 million secondary school girls kept out of school for more than a year.
The International Conference on Afghan Women’s Education was held in Bali and co-organized by the governments of Indonesia and Qatar. This was the first such meeting to take place since the Taliban takeover last year, gathering representatives of 38 countries, including Pakistan, international organizations, NGOs and academics.
In his remarks at the conference, Pakistani Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari highlighted the "importance of education for women and their participation in decision making."
"Need for concrete and practical assistance programs benefiting cross section of Afghan society," the foreign office said in a statement, listing Bhutto Zardari’s main talking points. "Pakistan’s strong support to all efforts aimed at promoting the well-being and prosperity of the Afghan people."
Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim-majority country and conference host, has made Afghanistan one of its priority foreign aid commitments, with assistance directed mostly to support women’s empowerment and education.
“We cannot choose to remain idle, we must do something,” Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi told a press conference.
“I firmly believe investing in women means investing in a brighter future, given the opportunity women can make a critical contribution to society.”
Marsudi said creating conducive conditions for women’s participation in Afghan society was of critical importance, urging participants to “encourage progress to establish an inclusive government that respects women’s rights” and “guarantee education for all.”
Under its new rulers, Afghanistan has been struggling to achieve growth and stability, as foreign governments have refused to recognize the Taliban while its aid-dependent Afghan economy has been in freefall following the suspension of billions of dollars in foreign aid.
Human rights violations against women and girls have mounted steadily in the last year and restrictions on women’s employment have cost Afghanistan’s GDP up to $1 billion, or around five percent, according to UN data.
The conference was a “good steppingstone,” Qatar’s assistant foreign minister, Lolwah Rashid Al-Khater, told participants of the Bali meeting.
Indonesia and Qatar are working together on a scholarship program dedicated to Afghan people and planning to create economic opportunities through microloans. The two governments are also keen on facilitating policies that would connect the Afghan private sector with their international counterparts.
“One message for the international community: Education is a basic right for all ... And it’s important for myself and my colleagues as well — me as a Muslim woman — to confirm that this is not part of a faith; preventing women from their basic rights is not part of the faith,” Al-Khater said.
“It is our obligation as Muslim-majority countries to confront that and to say to any actors that this does not represent us, this does not represent the faith of Islam.”