(AFP) – Jul 20, 2010
KABUL — US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton used part of her address to a key conference in Kabul on Tuesday to defend Afghan women concerned that peace efforts with the Taliban could jeopardise their rights.
"I speak from experience when I say that the work of Afghan women and civil society groups will be essential to this country?s success," she told the gathering of 70 representatives from international organisations and nations.
"If these groups are fully empowered to help build a just and lasting peace, they will help do so. If they are silenced and pushed to the margins of Afghan society, the prospects for peace and justice will be subverted."
Clinton, the most high profile woman politician in the West, congratulated Afghan President Hamid Karzai for saying he would not sacrifice the rights of women, ethnic minorities or civil society groups in the quest for peace.
Before the conference, Clinton raised the same issues with a group of 12 hand-picked Afghan women aid workers at the US embassy.
She encouraged them to share their concerns about a process of reintegration of Taliban footsoldiers, which the United States is supporting on condition that the insurgents renounce violence and take part in the democratic process.
Karzai last month also won the endorsement of Afghan leaders to start peace talks with insurgent leaders and called on the international community to back his efforts -- despite at least initial scepticism from the United States.
"An Afghanistan that is stable, peaceful and secure is in everyone's interest, particularly women and children," said Clinton. "But it cannot come at the cost of women," she warned.
Afghan lawmaker Fawzia Koofi told Clinton: "We want peace with justice, bringing the Taliban on board and compromise with women's rights would take this country back hundreds of years."
Clinton's interest in gender equality and defending women's rights has been a policy favourite since her tenure as American first lady from 1993 to 2001.
Washington is to commit 37 million dollars in the next four years to increase the number of women in health professions, particularly midwifery.
Aid group Save the Children has described Afghanistan as the worst country in the world in which to be a mother.
According to statistics provided by US officials, the average life expectancy for women in Afghanistan is 44 years old and one women in eight die during childbirth -- one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the world.
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