Fawzia Koofi

Kabul, 5 Mar2014 (TOLO) - The next Afghan government must foster a larger female presence in politics and recognize the importance of women's role in the peace negotiation process, the Chair of Parliament's Commission on Women's Affairs, Fawzia Koofi, said in a meeting with presidential candidates and civil society groups.

The presidential candidates who participated agreed on women's important role in shaping peace and security in the country and said women's rights must be institutionalized in Afghanistan. Civil society leaders asked them to prioritize women's rights in their agendas.

"Women's presence in governmental institutions is quite insignificant as compared to that of men," Koofi said. "It needs to be expanded."

The activists called on the candidates to clarify their positions when it comes to women's participation in peace talks with the Taliban.

"Women have a crucial role in bringing peace and stability in the country," presidential candidate Hilal said. "They constitute half of the human community; they can persuade the men to lay down arms."

"We need women's suggestions to expedite the peace process and bring stability," presidential candidate Amin Arsala added.

Sultanzoi emphasized the need for capacity-building efforts amongst Afghan women.

"Capacity-building for women is crucial, and women's role in peace restoration is quite essential," he said. "In order to protect women's basic rights, we need to expand their roles."

Rassoul's running mate, Habiba Sarabi, formerly Afghanistan's only female Governor, was attending too.  She was, more than any of the other candidates, ready to be frank about the sad reality facing many women in Afghanistan.

"In today's society, women's opinions are not valued and their suggestions are not considered in decision-making," she said bluntly.

The civil society activists gathered at the event asked the candidates to honour the commitments made to women during their campaigns and to facilitate women's participation in economic, social, cultural and political spheres if they are elected.