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Dr Shirin Ebadi, Nobel Peace Prize Winner, delivers a keynote address at an IDLO Conference in Afghanistan on Challenges and Contributions of Women in the Legal Profession

Shirin Ebadi, renowned Iranian lawyer and human rights advocate and the first Muslim woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize, delivered a video (click on the picture to see video) keynote address at a Conference organized by IDLO and held in Kabul last Saturday, 5 June 2010.
The event was organized with the support of the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, in partnership with the Afghanistan Independent Bar Association (AIBA) and the Center for Conflict and Peace Studies (CAPS).
Prominent legal experts and professionals shared their views about women’s position in the justice sector and discussed the obstacles they face in carrying out their duties.
In her video message, Dr Ebadi addressed the audience and encouraged women to believe in, and strive for, gender parity, and become themselves promoters of such social change. Two key factors will enable women to fight a culture ‘that denies equality of men and women’: education and economic independence. ‘Women should believe that they are equal to men. […] Education will give women the self-confidence they need […]’ to do so; an economic independence will enable them to be strong enough to ‘govern their destiny’.
Data available from government and UN sources for Afghanistan points to single digit percentages of women as attorneys (about 6%), prosecutors (6.4%-9.4%), and judges (4.7%-5.4%). Justice institutions, especially in the provinces, struggle to recruit and retain qualified professionals generally, and women in particular, affecting the population’s ability to access the formal justice system.
The National Justice Sector Strategy and the National Justice Plan aim to remedy the gender gap in qualified personnel with special programs to address obstacles that limit women‘s ability to partake in the legal profession.
IDLO’s current program in Afghanistan, structured to support such Strategy, has marked its first year anniversary with this Conference. In the first twelve months there has been a focus on gender issues, and the protection of women against all forms of violence has been one of its flagship initiatives. In March 2010, thanks to IDLO’s support and technical assistance, a specialized Violence Against Women Unit was officially opened within the Office of the Attorney General of Afghanistan. The Unit provides a dedicated institution for the criminal investigation, prosecution and conviction of cases such as assault, harassment, beating, forced and underage marriage and deprivation of property and inheritance. It will strengthen and expand national capacity for the prevention of sexual and gender based violence in a coordinated and comprehensive manner.