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Thank you for the opportunity to speak to you all.
Today’s conference is about the empowerment of Afghan women. But it is really about a prosperous future for all Afghans. Because women empowerment is not only a matter of human rights and social justice. It is about development; it is about human growth; it is about fulfilling the potential of the country.
Clear, positive steps have been taken when it comes to gender equality and women’s rights in Afghanistan. For example, at the beginning of this century, less than one million Afghans could go to school – and all of them were boys. Today, over 3 million girls are in school, and one fifth of university students are women. Many are getting a job, and contribute to the national economy.
But there is much more to be done. Afghan women continue to face challenges in all walks of life. With elections coming up, work must also continue to increase women's participation in political life. At a time when prospects for peace in Afghanistan are perhaps the most genuine in a generation, women need to lead the way on the path towards reconciliation.
The European Union has always been and will continue to be the strongest supporter, with all our means, of women in Afghanistan.
Today I am proud to announce a new €2 million programme that will train and educate Afghan women in Central Asia, empowering them economically and making them more independent.
This programme will in fact be one of trilateral cooperation between Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Afghanistan. The support of Afghanistan’s Central Asian neighbours is vital. Peace, greater regional economic cooperation and connectivity, will benefit all Afghans, but also the wider region.
So, I want thank you all for your commitment towards Afghan women. It is a commitment that we - the European Union - share, and a commitment towards a stronger, peaceful and more just Afghanistan.