Provisional estimates show that approximately 7 million people voted in Afghanistan’s presidential and provincial council election last Saturday. About a third of women voted—a tremendous achievement. That is evidence that support for democratic institutions and women’s participation is making a real difference on the ground.
Early indications show that the role of women in Afghanistan’s elections has taken great steps in the right direction, but what plans are in place to ensure that those hard-won battles for the rights of women are not lost as a result of the international security assistance force draw-down at the end of this year?
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to raise that point. The Department for International Development committed £20 million of funding to help the UN work to support the elections, including nearly £5 million for a programme to support women’s participation. As we go forward, we must ensure that the constitution that is already in place to support women’s rights is enforced, that we are working at grassroots level and putting more money into community programmes and that across government, for example in the police, women get the chance to play their full role. As far as I and the Government are concerned, we are determined to ensure that those hard-won additional rights for women are not just maintained but built on further.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and this gives me a chance to pay tribute to the tireless efforts he made to push through his private Member’s Bill. It has not just set out how important equality is to our Parliament, but has been picked up across the world as an example of the UK’s taking a stand on gender equality.
As we pay tribute to others, it is right for the House again to reflect at the time of these elections on the enormous contribution our armed forces have made and continue to make. It is heartening that in the elections the three front-runners were supportive of the extension of women’s rights in government, but progress has been fragile. It is unacceptable that only 1% of those who serve in the Afghan police force are women. I know that the Secretary of State will share that concern, so what more can be done to ensure that the legal, judicial and policing systems properly reflect a better balance of gender in Afghanistan?
That is the very point that I raised with the Minister of the Interior when I was last in Afghanistan. We are providing technical assistance to enable work on this issue across the board, but one thing that is being considered is bringing in women at more senior levels in the Afghan police to get role models, so that incoming female recruits can aspire and look up to them.
Given that the engagement in democracy is so strong, with the draw-down of ISAF it will be crucial that donor communities continue to provide aid to what is one of the poorest countries in the world, in order to maintain stability. What discussions has the Secretary of State had with US authorities about recognising the importance of that continued aid commitment?
I routinely discuss the work of the donor community with our US colleagues and there will be an important meeting, which the UK will be co-chairing, at the end of this year and perhaps running into early next year that will assess progress against the Tokyo mutual accountability framework. At that point we should have a new Afghan President and Government in place, so that will be a good time to take stock of progress and of the challenges that remain.