Statement by The Chief Executive of The Islamic Republic of Afghanistan H.E. Dr. Abdullah Abdullah At the OECD Eurasia Week 2018 Shaping future through gender policies OECD Conference Center, Paris- Republic of France

Statement by
The Chief Executive of The Islamic Republic of Afghanistan
H.E. Dr. Abdullah Abdullah 
At the OECD Eurasia Week 2018
Shaping future through gender policies 
OECD Conference Center, Paris- Republic of France
19 November, 2018

بِسْمِ اللهِ الرَّحْمٰنِ الرَّحِيْمِ

Honorable delegates, 
Ladies and gentlemen,

It is a great pleasure to address this thematic session Shaping the Future Through Gender Polices. I would like to extend my gratitude for the organizer of this meeting – the OECD and all our counterparts.
We are all aware of the conditions in most, of Afghanistan under the Taliban between 1995 and 2001. It was appalling for all our citizens, especially the women and girls of the country, who were deprived of all their basic rights to education, healthcare and employment. That is why going back to that era or those conditions is not an option.

The fall of the Taliban saw a return to normalcy, and by 2004 a new Constitution that adheres to religious and cultural values, formed the basis for a new Afghanistan where women regained their rightful place in society and all facets of life. Many improvements can be pointed out to over the past 17 years, partly due to the will of the Afghanistan people, as well as the commitment of the international community to help us rebuild after three decades of war. We have witnessed major improvements in all fields, mainly education, social and economic development, civil society, private sector growth, and in areas where the active participation of women has been visible and impactful.

It is the goal of Government to eliminate discrimination and violence against women, develop their human capital and promote their leadership in order to guarantee their full and equal participation in all aspects of life.

We believe that gender participation and contribution help lift families and communities out of poverty and contributes to higher GDP levels. This phenomenon is seen and felt globally, and in Afghanistan an unprecedented number of Afghan women are participating in the formal private sector economy as entrepreneurs, business owners and employees. Women are also playing a significant role in the Afghanistan SME sectors, such as agriculture, carpets, gems and handicrafts.

To further promote women’s involvement in business, the High Economic Council approved the proposal for the establishment of Afghanistan Women’s Chamber of Commerce and Industries. As a facilitator and supporter of this historic step toward women’s independence and economic empowerment, I believe this would play a significant role in removing the obstacles on the path of women in business and industry. 
Along the the same lines, the mentioned Council has recently approved 15 to 25% of all industrial Parks to be allocated to businesses running by women and SMEs.

Ladies and gentleman,
Afghanistan continues to strive to engage women in all fields so they can realize their potential. The National Unity Government has paid special attention to their cause, not only to provide educational and capacity building opportunities but also to empower women and enable their advancement and empowerment.

Last month, 417 women ran as candidates in the elections for 25% of the seats in the Lower House of Parliament. At no time in our history have so many women – many of whom are under the age of 40 – have participated in the political life of the country. Today, a woman sits on the Supreme Court, a first again. And many more are ministers, ambassadors, governors, judges and high-level officials.

On the private sector side, we have more women entrepreneurs and investors than ever before. If we look at the history of Afghanistan, women contributed tremendously to the economic growth of the family and their communities as a whole. Sectors such as rugs and carpets, gems and handicraft have flourished mostly as a result of women skills and hard work. Nowadays, diversification has opened new avenues for the younger generation who are in newer sectors, including services, IT, construction, agri-business, healthcare and education.

Almost 900 small-to-medium size companies across the country today are owned and run by women. They have generated a significant number of job opportunities for both women and men. The impact of women’s economic empowerment is so significant that the Afghanistan government dedicated a part of the National Priority Program to women’s economic development.

Ladies and Gentlemen!
Challenges exist. Female entrepreneurs face barriers and hurdles in setting up and growing businesses in comparison to men in areas such as registering their businesses, paying taxes and accessing contracts. To seek solutions, we are committed to:
• Ensure interagency and inter-ministerial support and coordination of policies and programs. A perfect example is the Women Economic Empowerment Executive Committee which has been established last year and I am chairing it.
• Provide women business owners with access to information about laws, regulations, policies, licensing requirements, contracting procedures, customs regulations, standards and certifications.
• Prepare a policy and a strategy to address and remove government impediments, as well as market barriers such as access to finance.
• Training and skills development – in specific problem areas such as product design, marketing and sales, financial management and market access in both domestic and international markets.

Ladies and Gentleman!
We believe development of policies and better staff performance will help Afghanistan women entrepreneurs to participate in the transition of the Afghanistan economy.

I believe that the backbone of our economy is small and medium enterprises. These SMEs represent over 90% of the businesses in Afghanistan, yet their growth is constrained by lack of access to capital. The government intends to promote both domestic and foreign investment in our SME sector.

Although the role of women in SMEs is currently limited, it is increasing day by day. We believe that Women – owned and women – managed Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) are especially playing an important role in the economic development of a country and They are the locomotive that drives our national economy forward. Supporting and promoting these SMEs are in the center of our focus. We are utilizing scarce resources that exist within the government to promote women owned or/and managed businesses. The planned formation of a new directorate for women SME is an indication of our commitment to achieve this goal.

To promote women’s involvement in business, we have established the ‘Women in Business’ working group to support female entrepreneurs and women-owned businesses. At present there around 1000 women-owned or managed businesses registered in Afghanistan.

Ladies and Gentlemen,
The working-age population in Afghanistan is around 16 million people, half of whom are economically active. Typically we are talking about this half, but forget about the second half, a great majority of whom are women, who due to different reasons including insecurity, culture and religious beliefs, illiteracy and lack of skills, are restricted to their homes that make them impoverished, food insecure, and not allowing them to contribute to the economy. We, through our Ministry of Economy, are working on a study to find out how we can bring economic activities into their communities and houses. I strongly urge our partners including OECD to help us with this very important study to enable this large economically inactive labor force and their families to come out of poverty and food insecurity by making them productive, perhaps through famous home -based work concepts.

As part of my concluding remarks, I would like to thank the organizers and participants of this important session. We have achieved much but need to do more to realize our goals. Cooperation and coordination at the global, international, national and local levels will be crucial to shaping the future achieving our policy objectives. 
Thank you.