I thank the Chairman for his introduction. I am very honoured to be here. I am here on behalf of my people. Recently, we held a conference regarding how to help Afghanistan and its people. It was a good opportunity and, at last, Afghans are in a position to set their priorities and to ask the international community where they need help and where we, the Afghans, seek help from them.
As an Afghan woman living in my country I am aware of the views of the international community. There is a possibility it may become disappointed too soon or take the view that nothing has changed or will change, that it is tired and losing resources, that it is wasting its time because nothing will change and that it might be better to leave the Afghans alone and the way they were living. This is not a correct perception. Many changes have taken place in Afghanistan and good progress has been made. I remember ten years ago when our six year old could not go to school, but today there are 68 women in the Parliament. One such woman represents the country before the committee in Dublin today, which is great progress. We have a constitution that gives us equal rights and which women can use as a tool for progress and participation.
Many good things have happened but, unfortunately, the media never focuses on these issues and always dwells on the negative things that have taken place. We have reached a point at which we can achieve progress now and we will all achieve it together not only to secure Afghanistan, but also to secure the entire world. I do not believe it is simply a matter for Afghanistan now. Our security and safety is connected with that of the entire world.
Much is taking place and there is a good deal of interference. There is also al-Qaeda behind us. It is still trying to occupy a specific territory which borders the entire world. It keeps its eyes on Afghanistan and seeks to get it back under control and rule it. We should not let it come back. I am here to tell the world that we must be patient. We need and expect the international community to show a long-term commitment towards Afghanistan. We will achieve our aims and we will not lose, but we must be very strategic and patient.
I refer to how the international community can help Afghanistan. The international community should definitely support the Government of Afghanistan. We cannot undermine it. If there is stronger government, we will definitely achieve our goal soon. There are many problems in our Government. A good deal of corruption remains in the country and the presence of warlords in the country influences the entire system. They try to prevent people from progressing based on merit. They try to bring in their own people but they were never made to face justice to pay for what they had done to the people of Afghanistan. They tried to influence the system and keep themselves alive. That is why we are struggling to remove them and put the foundations in place for a democratic system.
We must bring more women into the system. One of the causes of corruption is the lack of a female presence. If more women become involved, things will change.
Because of the security situation, everyone focuses on the military issue, on how to strengthen security. That is essential for development work but the priority should be to strengthen the Afghan security system, not to send more troops to Afghanistan. As a woman, I prefer the soldiers currently in Afghanistan from the international community because their presence guarantees my movement as a woman involved in politics. However, I would still prefer if the international community supported the security system of Afghanistan and equipped and trained those involved in terms of both quantity and quality.
A lot of attention is focused on security issues but most aid is sent to the using soldiers. I do not like this because if aid is sent by the military, it puts it at risk. Most of the infrastructure for the delivery of aid is easily targeted by anti-government elements. If aid was sent through non-governmental organisations, including local NGOs, or the Government of Afghanistan and the local community, it would be a secure investment. However, aid provision is being militarised and the focus is on security, while the development side is ignored. We cannot achieve success through military intervention alone; it must also be achieved through development work.
I am regularly asked what I think of the Taliban. My reply is that we cannot buy someone at the market but if the region and the community are developed, foot soldiers can be brought back but not their main leaders who were produced by others for a different cause. The people involved simply want to survive, they only joined the Taliban in order that they could feed their children. If development work is fostered, people will join us and the power of the Taliban will be reduced.
The priority should be meeting the needs of the people. We should pass this money to local NGOs. Most of the organisations working in Afghanistan are divided according to gender. They are doing excellent work but women better understand women's issues, with entire projects dedicated to women. We make up nearly half of the population and have many problems. It is the only country in the world in which there are fewer women than men, even though we have lost so many men in three decades of war. This is because 60% of women marry at an age younger than 16 years and there are many deaths due to unsafe pregnancy and delivery. It is shocking; it is like a silent tsunami but no one thinks about it. Afghanistan has the second highest mortality rate in the world.
Only around 12% of women are literate, another major problem. No one thinks about how we can invest in girls' and women's education. Over 80% of my people practise customary law which always victimised women in solving disputes. Almost 90% of women are dependent on men for an income, making their lives more miserable. Around 90% of women also suffer some form of violence. There are many needs. However, whenever people ask about more investment in women's participation, the priority is our security. The country ratified Resolution 1325 but we are still not a part of peace negotiations.
How can we secure the support of the Irish Government and, through it, the European Union for the people and Government of Afghanistan? Representing an NGO which works for women's issues, the Afghan Women's Educational Centre, in partnership with Christian Aid, an NGO which receives funding from the Irish Government, I hope we will get increased funding and provide more education and awareness programmes for Afghan women. Without the participation of women, we cannot reach proper development goals and achieve sustainable peace and security. For sure, we would like the support of the people of Ireland in trying to reach this goal.