Women's Rights in Afghanistan
Wandering the streets of Kabul, Afghanistan in the 1960s, one passed lively, miniskirt-clad women alongside male friends as they strolled to their university classes. Heiresses to a new age of freedom, these women voted, laughed and lived freely, invigorated by the progressive spirit that pervaded every corner of the city. Beginning in the 1970s, however, conflict and poor governance gradually weakened women’s societal freedom. Then in 1996, the Taliban dismantled what semblance of equality remained. The United States’ post-9/11 occupation in Afghanistan ousted the Taliban and has helped to revive and work toward improving women’s rights in Afghanistan for nearly two decades. Yet in February 2020, the U.S. endorsed a deal with Afghanistan to withdraw from the country called The U.S.-Taliban Peace Deal. Although the agreement heralds a much-overdue peace between these long-warring countries, the departure of American troops may facilitate the return of Taliban rule and the subsequent eradication of women’s rights in Afghanistan.

The Taliban’s Unchecked Oppression of Women

The first half of the 20th century saw great progress toward gender equality in Afghanistan. The era’s feminist vigor enfranchised women and integrated them with men. When the 1960s constitution cemented women’s rights in the fabric of the nation, true gender equality seemed imminent.

Hardship soon befell Afghanistan. The country’s status as a Soviet proxy state in the 1970s, and later, the jihadist activity by Mujahideen groups, eroded women’s rights. Additionally, these conflicts contributed to the political fragility that ultimately enabled the Taliban to take power in 1996. In pursuit of establishing an Islamic state, the Taliban implemented a doctored, repressive interpretation of sharia law.

This Islamist code drastically encroached on women’s rights in Afghanistan and effectively confined them to the domestic sphere. Depriving them of the right to vote, to receive an education or to seek employment, the Taliban subordinated women. Even minor defiance to these restrictions met with violent floggings, abuse and even stonings. Such atrocities extended beyond legal sanctions; women were frequently subject to sexual assault. The Taliban’s message was clear: womanhood itself was punishable.

US Occupation and Female Empowerment

After al-Qaeda-engineered the 9/11 attacks, the U.S. deployed thousands of troops to Afghanistan to depose the Taliban. This maneuver catalyzed nearly two decades of bloodshed. Though it has been hotly contested, America’s involvement has boosted women’s rights in Afghanistan. During the U.S. occupation, women have regained considerable economic opportunity and social freedoms.

Post-Taliban legislative actions have codified gender parity. The new constitution recognizes women’s legal equality with men. Rape, violence and physical abuse, previously an unrelenting threat to Afghan women, are now indictable offenses.

Women are also profiting from widening economic and educational opportunities and changes in societal attitudes. After decades of flatlining, the female labor force participation rate has increased by 7% since 2010, with women foraying into education, medicine, law enforcement and even public office at record levels. Women’s recent vocational advances have contributed to shifting ideologies across the country. In February 2020, NBC News reported that most Afghans have discarded misogynistic views in support of improving women’s rights in Afghanistan. Such a cultural transformation seems to herald women’s long-term empowerment and civic engagement.

Repercussions of the US-Taliban Peace Deal

Tragically, the U.S.-Taliban peace deal, signed Feb. 29, has the potential to reverse these last two decades of progress. With robust backing from both sides, the document provides for the departure of American troops from Afghanistan. This deal promises an end to the United States’ longest war. For its part, the Taliban has agreed to reject terrorism in pursuit of negotiating peace with the Afghan government.

The deal aspires to pacify a country too long battered by conflict, but it contains a grave flaw: it makes no provisions for women’s rights in Afghanistan. Despite its previous claims that harmony would “not be possible” without securing equality for women, the U.S. deferred the determination of gender parity to intra-Afghan discussions.

The Taliban has committed to granting women the rights that Islam guarantees. However, it claims to have upheld this pledge during its brutally repressive rule from 1996 to 2001. Given that the Taliban’s understanding of women’s rights has proven alarmingly narrow, its recent promise is hardly a consolation. Moreover, according to the U.S.’s most recent report, the territory that the Afghan government commanded in 2019 had dwindled to a record low. Without foreign aid or military backing, many fear the Taliban will easily overthrow the weakening Afghan government following the withdrawal of American troops.

Progress

In the past 20 years, Afghan women have shattered thousands of glass ceilings as they have built successful careers and enjoyed their hard-won freedoms. As the terms of the peace deal are actualized. However, the potential return of Taliban rule threatens to obliterate these advances. In order to avert a revival of misogyny and secure women’s rights in Afghanistan, Women for Afghan Women’s (WAW) Peacebuilding Program is preparing women to participate in future intra-Afghan talks. Along with stimulating meaningful political discourse among citizens, the program has coached 3,065 women in advocacy and negotiation. Politically and socially empowered, these outspoken women are joining the everyday conversations and monumental peace talks that will dictate their and their country’s future, and work toward improving women’s rights in Afghanistan.

Rosalind Coats
Photo: Pxfuel

Schooling During COVID-19As COVID-19 started spreading, schools around the world shut down. For countries with already poor schooling systems and low literacy rates, the pandemic created even more challenges. The world’s most illiterate countries are South Sudan with a 73% illiteracy rate, Afghanistan with a 71.9% illiteracy rate, Burkina Faso with a 71.3% illiteracy rate and Niger with a 71.3% illiteracy rate. Schooling during COVID-19 has only increased the struggles these countries face as they try to promote literacy.

Literacy is an important aspect of reducing world poverty, as countries with the lowest levels of literacy are also the poorest. This is because poverty often forces children to drop out of school in order to support their families. Since those children did not get an education, they will not be able to get a high-paying job, which requires literacy. Thus, a lack of education keeps people in poverty. If countries with low literacy rates make schooling harder to access due to COVID-19, the illiteracy rate will increase, and the cycle will continue. Below are the ways that the four least literate countries are continuing schooling during COVID-19.

South Sudan

After almost a decade of fighting due to the South Sudanese Civil War, literacy rates are already low in South Sudan, as the war inhibited access to education. The government-imposed curfew in response to COVID-19 forced children to stay home. This especially challenges girls, whose families expect them to pick up housework at home due to gender norms. The government provided school over the radio or television as a virtual alternative to schooling during COVID-19. However, impoverished children who lack access to electricity, television and radio have no other option. This lack of access to education for poor Sudanese children will further decrease literacy rates. As a result, children may be at risk of early marriage, pregnancy or entrance into the workforce.

Afghanistan

In Afghanistan, there was already a war going on when the COVID-19 pandemic struck, creating a barrier to education. In 2019 alone, 200,000 students stopped attending school. COVID-19 has the potential to make this problem worse. Importantly, Afghanistan’s schooling crisis affects girls the most; by upper school, only 36% of students are girls. Further, 35% of Afghan girls are forced into child marriages, and not being in school makes them three times as likely to be married under 18. If they do not finish school, there is a high chance they will never become literate.

COVID-19 may exacerbate girls’ lack of access to school. When schools shut down, the schooling system in Afghanistan moved online in order to continue schooling during COVID-19. But only 14% of Afghans have access to the internet due to poverty. Since many parents are not literate, they cannot help their children with school. School shutdowns may also decrease future school attendance, especially for girls. As such, COVID-19 will perpetuate illiteracy in Afghanistan, with many children missing out on school due to poverty.

Burkina Faso

In Burkina Faso, school shutdowns have put children at risk of violence. Jihadist violence, tied to Islamic militants, has increased in the country. Violence forces children out of school, with many receiving threats, thus decreasing the literacy rate. Though school was a safe space for children, COVID-19 is making this situation worse.

As an alternative for schooling during COVID-19, Burkina Faso has broadcasted lessons on the radio and TV. However, many students do not have access to these technologies. Even if they do, staying at home does not protect them from violence, which could prevent them from going to school. In Burkina Faso, many children also travel to big cities to go to school. But without their parents being able to help them economically, many are now forced to get jobs, entering the workforce early. This lowers the number of children in school as well as the country’s literacy rate.

Niger

In Niger, 1.2 million children lost access to schooling during COVID-19, lacking even a television or radio alternative. Schools have since reopened, but children still feel the impacts of this shutdown. Before COVID-19, at the start of 2020, more than two million children were not in school due to financial insecurity, early marriage or entrance into the workforce. COVID-19 forced many children to give up schooling forever, as they had to marry or begin work and fell behind in school. As a result, this lowered the country’s literacy rate.

Improving Literacy Rates During COVID-19

While COVID-19 did prevent many children from accessing the education they need, many organizations are working to help them meet this challenge. One of these organizations is Save the Children. It is dedicated to creating reliable distance learning for displaced students, support for students and a safe environment for students to learn.

COVID-19 has left many students without access to education, jeopardizing the future for many. In the countries with the highest illiteracy rates, a lower percentage of children with access to education means a lower percentage of the population that will be literate. Improving literacy rates is key reducing poverty, as it allows people to work in specialized jobs that require a higher education, which then leads to higher salaries. If literacy rates drop, poverty will only continue to increase. This makes the work of organizations like Save the Children crucial during the ongoing pandemic.

Seona Maskara
Photo: Flickr

cost of fixing poverty
Global poverty appears to be a daunting problem. With numerous countries facing high rates of homelessness, economic instability and high child mortality rates, feasible solutions may seem out of reach. However, the cost of fixing poverty with solutions such as building water wells is not an astronomical figure. It actually costs about as much as one of America’s favorite pastimes: the NBA Disney season.

The Cost of a Season

The outbreak of COVID-19 forced the NBA season to go on hiatus. It only recently reopened — this time, in Walt Disney World. The NBA is paying Walt Disney World $1.5 million per day to host 22 professional basketball teams, totaling more than $150 million for the entire Disney season. The season includes eight missed, regular-season games and then playoffs. The overall cost covers essentials such as housing, courts, meals, COVID-19 testing, transportation, entertainment, medical support and security for the players and staff. When asked about the cost, Adam Silver, the NBA Commissioner, stated that it certainly was not economical for the league but that they felt an obligation to have a season.

The Cost of Poverty

With a total value of about $8 billion per year, the NBA’s usual revenue is about 20% of President Trump’s 2021 request for the USAID budget — which is about $41 billion. This request makes it clear that solving global poverty is not quite as big a task as it might seem. For example, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation spent $150 million in grants to provide hepatitis B vaccines to 4 million children. For 600,000 of these children, this was their first time receiving a vaccination. However, the foundation’s grant is equivalent to the $150-million 2020 NBA season in Disney World.

The cost of the 2020 NBA season could also make a dramatic difference in the lives of people in countries such as Afghanistan,  many of whom do not have access to clean water. The average cost of installing a water well is $8,000, although it can range from $1,700 to $30,000 depending on the location and difficulty of construction. Taking the price of an average well, $150 million could provide about 19,000 wells — each of which could serve roughly 2,000 people.

Who Would Benefit and How?

Access to clean water saves millions of lives and produces a series of solutions to poverty. Increasing access to safe water can prevent child and adult deaths from diseases such as diarrhea, malaria and malnutrition. With 19,000 wells serving about 2,000 people each, approximately 38 million people would benefit from the same amount of money that the NBA used for the end of their 2020 season. The poorest city in the world, Kabul, Afghanistan, has a population of 4.38 million people. An investment in wells equivalent to the 2020 NBA season would not only grant access to clean, safe water for all of Kabul’s population but to all of Afghanistan’s population of 37.17 million people.

A Comparison for Thought: The Cost of Fixing Poverty

The NBA season holds a lot of value to people in the United States, and it is clearly not the NBA’s responsibility to provide money for foreign aid. What the 2020 NBA season proved, however, is that the cost of fixing poverty is comparable to the cost of leisure and athletic entertainment. Understanding that the same NBA budget of $150 million could serve 38 million people makes the cost of fixing poverty a bit more concrete. Hopefully, this enables policy-makers and policy influencers in the United States to prioritize foreign aid.

Alyssa Hogan
Photo: Flickr

Updates on SDG Goal 1 in AfghanistanThough Afghanistan is a relatively poor country, it is on the road to betterment. The U.N.’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) adopted by world leaders in 2015, are helping to create this reality and below are some updates on SDG Goal 1 in Afghanistan.

What are the SDGs?

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are an agenda for global change, put together by the leaders of 193 nations and slated to span 15 years, from 2015 to 2030. A broad look at the SDGs can be broken down into three primary goals:
1. End Extreme Poverty
2. Fight Inequality and Injustice
3. Protect Our Planet

What the SDGs Mean For Afghanistan

The Millennium Development Goals — a similar set of precursor goals, intended for the years 2000 to 2015 — set the previous stage for success within Afghanistan. Despite the country’s continuous challenge in creating better lives for its citizens, Afghanistan made much progress during these years. For example, the first 15 years of the millennia saw a change in the mortality rate of Afghan children; in 2001, 25% of Afghans would die before age five, while today that number is down to 10%. Although this statistic is still alarming when compared to those of the developed world, it constitutes a significant improvement. Fast-forwarding to 2015, the compiling of the SDGs took place at the United Nations General Assembly. There, Chief Executive Abdullah Adulla — GoIRA, represented Afghanistan and committed to pursuing the SDGs within his nation.

Since October 2015, upon the approval of the Afghan Minister’s cabinet, the Ministry of Economy has taken the responsibility of keeping track of Afghanistan’s progress and reports regarding the SDGs. The cabinet is currently working on nationalizing the agenda and extending consultations to those with an international stake in Afghanistan reaching its SDG targets.

Progress So Far

Specific updates on SDG Goal 1 in Afghanistan or updates in ending extreme poverty mostly concern planning, rather than actual action. Extreme poverty describes those living on less than $1.25 per day. While 42% of Afghans are below the poverty line (meaning they live on less than $1.90 per day), it is unclear what portion of this statistic is made up of those suffering in “extreme” poverty. Regardless, a great deal of preparation has been made in efforts to achieve SDG Goal 1 in Afghanistan; e.g., 111 national targets and 178 indicators are set for the country.

Recommendations and reports concerning the SDGs are on the minds of Afghan leaders. Aligning Afghanistan’s National Priority Programs with the United Nations SDGs is complete and communications and advocacy strategies are drawn up and approved by the SDGs Executive Committee. In addition, the Targets Prioritization Guideline has been finalized and shared with the relevant authorities.

A Final Outlook: Positive Trends

On a more humanitarian level, the Sustainable Development Report shows updates on SDG Goal 1 in Afghanistan as somewhat bleak. “Major challenges remain” still characterizes most of the assessment of the nation’s progress. However, this does not mean that a great deal of improvement has not already taken place. In terms of hunger issues, the prevalence of starving children in Afghanistan has dropped, as has the prevalence of obesity. The general health and wellness trajectory also seems promising — with maternal mortality rates and new HIV rates in particular, dropping significantly.

Overall, while updates on SDG Goal 1 in Afghanistan may on the surface be merely organizationally based — the nation is making a great deal of important progress towards the end goal. By 2030, the country’s outlook might well be much more promising.

Ava Roberts
Photo: Flickr

afghan womenAlthough Afghanistan’s Constitution, ratified in 2004, forbids discrimination and declares that “man and woman, have equal rights and duties before the law,” gender inequality still persists. Women are repeatedly denied opportunities for social, educational and economic advancement, leaving 80% out of the workforce and only 8% with more than a primary education. Gallup surveys conducted in 2018 identify Afghan women as the “least satisfied women in the world,” with more than half reporting that they would permanently leave the country if given the opportunity due to discrimination, food insecurity and violence. The good news, however, is that the United Nations Mine Action Service has enacted a new initiative in Afghanistan’s Bamiyan province that mobilizes women to escape poverty and empowers them to clear war-torn communities of the remnants of war.

Poverty and Conflict

The World Bank estimates that the number of people living in areas overwhelmed by conflict has doubled since 2007, a rate that has increased alongside poverty expansion. People living in fragile and conflict-affected situations, or FCS, are 10 times more likely to be poor. Forty-three of the world’s most impoverished countries are classified as FCS regions. Proximity to conflict directly affects education, infrastructure, health and the economy. In violent areas, children are less likely to travel to school, families are more likely to suffer long-term medical conditions and communities lose valuable opportunities for monetary mobility and advancement.

The Taliban has sustained a significant presence in Afghanistan for over a decade and has remained a constant threat. More than 1,400 people were killed or injured by landmines in Afghanistan in 2018, a number that has tripled since 2012. Mines and other explosives are certainly detrimental to infrastructure after detonation, but unexploded devices can be equally as destructive. Construction projects are largely avoided for fear of encountering an explosive during the building process. This leaves many areas without roads, essential buildings and airports, all assets that could play a role in reducing poverty.

Dauntless De-Miners

The United Nations Mine Action Service (UNMAS) began a de-mining pilot program in 2018, featuring 14 brave Afghan women in Afghanistan’s Bamiyan province. After receiving training from the UNMAS de-mining experts, the women strap on Kevlar vests and sport protective face shields that enable them to search the soil using massive metal detectors. Once a detector beeps, the team member will kneel and sift through the dirt until the mine or explosive is found and deactivated.

The primary goals of the program are to clear mines, educate villagers and equip Afghan women with the tools they need to escape poverty. The team works approximately nine hours per day, but depending on location, mine removal projects may be short-term. In circumstances where land can be swiftly searched, the team uses the remaining time to learn vocational skills taught by UNMAS workers, training that has the potential to change their status. Additional education for Afghan women, who would otherwise receive very little, is crucial to broadening their job opportunities, increasing household income and helping them rise out of poverty. UNMAS also requires women to participate in meetings that decide how to use the land that is newly mine-free, which showcases their growing presence and immense contribution to their historically war-torn communities.

Fatima Amiri was one of the Bamiyan province’s first team members, and she is frequently highlighted for her dedication. She works tirelessly for her team after witnessing the devastating effects of hidden and unexploded devices. A member of her community traveled to a mountain on the Day of Eid, or the end of Ramadan, and never returned. Amiri realized that day she wanted to rid the surrounding area of mines, and she notes that now, “no one says that women are weak.”

Brace for Impact

Afghanistan’s fearless team is looking to expand its efforts beyond the Bamiyan province in the coming years. Since its inception, the team has covered more than 51,500 square meters and is projected to clear their land of mines and explosives by 2023. Most of the cleared region is now being used to build infrastructure or for farming, a lifestyle that boosts community economies and indirectly improves Afghan women’s social status. The de-mining women are recognized for their success and newly respected for providing their fellow community members with safety, food security and ways to maintain a steady income, three things crucial to overcoming conflict-induced poverty. The community’s appreciation erodes traditional gender norms that have restricted Afghan women for centuries by proving their value as productive members of society capable of protecting thousands in war-torn communities.

Natalie Clark
Photo: Flickr

women's rights in Afghanistan
Afghanistan is a conservative and religious country where the existence of mistreatment of women still exists. In October 2011, an article published by Oxfam pointed out that the women who lived under the Taliban regime were not allowed to work outside their homes and were forced to wear a burqa. Women’s rights in Afghanistan suffer under these policies. However, as an act of resistance, Afghan women started an online campaign in 2017, titled #WhereIsMyName. The focus of this campaign is for women in Afghanistan to have the right to publicly reveal their names. These women want their names recognized. Despite facing repercussions for their mobilization, some Afghan women are still campaigning for their rights and the free use their names through the slogan “Where’s My Name”.

The Campaign Begins

The campaign started three years ago when Laleh Osmany realized that she was fed up with women being denied what she thought was a basic right — the right to publicly use their names. Shortly after Ms. Osmany started her campaign, Afghan celebrities began supporting it, including singer and music producer Farhad Darya and singer-songwriter Aryana Sayeed.

In July 2020, demand has resurfaced yet again. This time, the right to have mothers’ names listed on their children’s documents was the key issue. For years, women’s rights activists demanded their names mentioned in official documents, including their children’s birth certificates. Similar to Afghan identification, birth certificates only carry the father’s name and even on a woman’s wedding card, her name does not appear. Only the woman’s father and future husband’s names appear. Moreover, the woman’s name also does not appear on her grave. This led the activist Wida Saghari, a single parent, to speak out and denounce her difficulties in obtaining custody of her child’s identity documents.

Progress Ensues

Due to the efforts of these activist women, many more people recognize the campaign, #WhereIsMyName, and its imposition is now much greater in Afghanistan. It is quite a common occurrence for family members in Afghanistan to coerce women into hiding their names from non-family members. The use of a woman’s name in public is an offense, per Taliban law. #WhereIsMyName recently made a big stride forward in its cause. The right of women to use their names is being studied to amend the Population Registration Law. This will allow women to issue their names on identification cards and birth certificates.

Campaign members have explained that they intend to identify issues before the Afghan government and enact rights to protect women. They also stressed that the movement worries that only 38% of women possess Tazkera, the country’s main identity document. Since the start of the campaign, organizations such as the Revolutionary Association of Women joined the cause by declaring their opposition to the current state of women’s rights in Afghanistan.

Challenges & Continued Progress

Although Osmany welcomes an amendment, she says that the country is very conservative and male-dominated. It is due to these circumstances, that many women would still face challenges in society, even if the law passes. One of these challenges is the gender-based violence seen in the country as 87% of women experience some type of violence.

Mobilizing #WhereIsMyName is an advancement for women’s rights in Afghanistan. The campaign enables women and creates at the very least, a space for opportunities for women’s rights advancement. This is a critical step in achieving gender equality in a conservative country.

– Juliet Quintero
Photo: Pixbay

Gender Violence and Domestic Abuse in AfghanistanGender violence in Afghanistan has reached epidemic levels. Due to a healthcare system in a state of crisis, victims are unlikely to come forward, and even less likely to receive care for injuries sustained from long-term abuse. Thankfully, many organizations are working to address this problem in Afghanistan.

The Facts about Gender Violence in Afghanistan

Eighty-seven percent of women have experienced one form of gender violence in Afghanistan, and 62% have experienced all 3 forms: psychological, physical and sexual. Impoverished victims are more likely to remain silent because they lack the ability to speak to a healthcare professional. Plus, they are less likely to be taken seriously. Long-term physical abuse can lead to burns, disabilities, internal bleeding and gastrointestinal disorders, among other physical and mental health problems. Sexual violence also often leads to STDs and unwanted pregnancies.

An often overlooked form of gender violence in Afghanistan is child marriage, which is extremely prevalent despite the multiple laws in place to prevent it. The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) estimates that one in five girls will be forced into a union by age 18, with 5% forced to marry by age 15. The biggest concern for forced child marriages is the chance of a high-risk pregnancy, which often puts the victim’s life at risk and hinders any possibility of growth or education. Child marriage is born of poverty because impoverished families will marry their daughters off in exchange for money, or the chance of the girls marrying someone financially stable enough to provide for them. This practice dehumanizes young girls and effectively denies them human rights.

Working Against Domestic Abuse

The World Health Organization, in a new healthcare protocol for gender-based violence, defines 22 forms of abuse and sets the standards of care for healthcare professionals. The report emphasizes the seriousness of gender-based violence. However, the lack of healthcare workers in Afghanistan limits its ability to respond to this problem. Healthcare professionals are the first witness for most victims, which means that they are extremely important in making sure that the victim doesn’t go home to an unsafe situation. Witnesses are also valuable to the prosecution of the offender.

The UNFPA has trained more than 2,500 new recruits in how to spot signs of violence and respond with sensitivity to victims in Afghanistan. Along with these recruits, the UNFPA trained 875 judges and 850 healthcare staff. The UNFPA has multiple Family Protection Centers with hundreds of trained counselors, whom they dispatch to hospitals and centers for emergency care. These new centers, which allow women and girls to make discreet reports, saw over 1,400 disclosures of violence in just one year after their foundation. This is a big step forward, since Afghanistan’s government did not formally make violence against women illegal until 2009.

The Future of Girls in Afghanistan

Violence against women in Afghanistan not only common but expected. In the current environment, it is up to the country’s health ministry and the public to take women seriously and give young girls a chance to thrive. However, solutions to domestic violence don’t just have to focus on the health care and justice systems. For example, by funding STEM and political programs for young girls, the Girls LEAD Act would give girls a chance to climb out of poverty and craft a future where violence does not belong. In addition to the work being done by the UNFPA and the WHO, this act shows the potential for international action to help reduce gender violence in Afghanistan.

Raven Heyne
Photo: Pixabay

poverty in afghanistanForeign aid in any form can be considered positive at face value, but Afghanistan could benefit from greater investment in private organizations due to its specific needs. Aid from countries such as the U.S. is accompanied by political strings that, according to a U.S. agency report on Afghanistan, results in the Afghani government’s focusing on the goals of its foreign investors rather than the needs of its citizens. Poverty in Afghanistan requires attention unhindered by political expectations.

US Foreign Aid Policy

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced in March of 2020 that the U.S. would be cutting $1 billion in foreign aid to Afghanistan, which became a foreign policy initiative following major U.S. military presence in the country. The U.S. foreign aid is allocated to a variety of purposes, some of which attempt to address the widespread poverty that still impacts 54.5% of Afghans. Despite these efforts, poverty remains a large concern. For example, the number of Afghans without basic food and housing increased from 6.5 to 9.4 million between 2019 and 2020.

Dr. Jessica Trisko Darden, an assistant professor at American University with expertise in foreign aid and Central and Southeast Asia, asserts that different types of foreign aid are better suited to target specific goals. Darden noted that U.S. foreign aid in Afghanistan is largely concerned with developing infrastructure tied to the needs of the foreign parties in this country, such as Kabul International Airport. Additionally, while the U.S. aid package may set aside some portion of the money with the intention of addressing poverty in Afghanistan, the larger goals are often political in nature.

Non-Governmental Organizations’ Contribution

Private organizations could focus their resources on areas ignored by foreign government aid. “I think that, in terms of overall strategies for Afghanistan, getting more resources to outlying regions, and having more NGO and local NGO presence in outlying regions is something that should be a goal of a sustainable development strategy for Afghanistan, rather than continuing to over-concentrate resources and efforts in the Kabul area,” said Darden. The U.S. aid focusing on the Kabul area for accessibility and the ability to address political goals arguably takes away attention from less centralized regions. A larger NGO presence in the country could mean an established, long-term effort to target the humanitarian needs of Afghans and reduce poverty in Afghanistan.

Afghan Women’s Network

One of the most prominent independent groups acting in Afghanistan is the Afghan Women’s Network. It was created following inspiration from the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women in 1995. This organization serves as an umbrella for a variety of humanitarian efforts in the country. It has direct points of contact in several major regions throughout the country and provides support to other organizations in the remaining regions. With 3,500 members and 125 women’s groups under its leadership, the Afghan Women’s Network has the ability and resources to provide immediate and specialized support to Afghans.

The political struggles of Afghanistan exist in tandem with the struggles of Afghani citizens. Multiple NGOs with unique goals ranging from gender equality to infant mortality to education could target the diverse needs of the Afghani population more directly. By supplying aid without political expectations and restrictions, NGOs could work to downsize poverty in Afghanistan.

Riya Kohli
Photo: Pixabay

forced marriage in Iraq and Afghanistan
In Iraq, a 1987 law entitled the Personal Status Law and Amendments stated that a person may not marry until age 18, however, they could marry with judicial consent at age 15. Nevertheless, 24% of girls marry by age 18 and 5% marry by age 15. In Afghanistan, the numbers are just as shocking. In fact, 35% of girls in Afghanistan marry by 18, and 9% by age 15. The consequences of forced marriage in Iraq and Afghanistan are detrimental to the development of a young girl’s identity and safety, and they shed light on issues with child marriage around the globe.

Child Marriage in Iraq

Child marriage is often the result of extreme poverty or religious beliefs, and because of these factors, it is at its highest in the Middle East. In Iraq, one in four children lives in poverty, making them extremely vulnerable to forced marriage. When families receive offers of money in exchange for their child, they often accept in order to feed the rest of their family. The girls that enter these marriages often suffer abuse and rape, or become pregnant; then in some cases, they experience divorce and end up on the street. Women over age 15 are also vulnerable to abusive marriages because 85% do not work and cannot financially support themselves.

In Iraq, child marriage is not criminalized and many often consider it normal or protect it. Recently, the rate of “pleasure marriages” has skyrocketed as well. Pleasure marriages are temporary marriages that have religious approval and often occur either so the man can obtain money from the girl’s family or for sexual exploitation of the girl before the marriage ends and the wife experiences abandonment. This is detrimental to young girls in poverty and rural communities, as their family often abandons them after paying large dowries to the man’s family.

Child Marriage in Afghanistan

Forced marriage in Iraq and Afghanistan is an unfortunate commonality, largely because of religious beliefs but also because girls lack opportunities for independence. In Afghanistan, although there are laws in place that make it illegal to marry anyone under age 18, they rarely experience enforcement. A 2017 study by UNFPA stated that girls who complete secondary school are less likely to be married under age 18, but unfortunately, the most recent data reflects that only 44% of girls in Afghanistan enter primary school. Only half of those girls then go on to secondary school. The lack of education that leads to poverty does not only take away a girl’s chance to experience growth and independence–in Afghanistan, it makes her all the more vulnerable to a forced marriage.

The effects of child marriage on a girl’s health and well being are detrimental. Girls under 15 years old are five times more likely to die in childbirth, according to the Women’s Health Coalition. Just as devastating, a child born to a child bride is 60% more likely to die in their first year of life. Girls forced to marry often cannot access healthcare because they have signs of abuse both physical and sexual. Because of this, the risk of STD contraction is very high.

Combatting Child Marriage Globally

Forced marriage in Iraq and Afghanistan affects too many young girls. Girls Not Brides is an international organization working to enforce the sustainable development goals that are necessary to end child marriage, starting with poverty and hunger. Girls Not Brides outlines steps in its Theory of Change and monitors change frequently. The organization’s website allows people to email and call leaders in support of enforcing the legal age of marriage. Thanks to organizations such as that, child marriage now is declining in the world. In 2016, the percentage of women married before the age of 15 globally was 7%, as opposed to 12% in the 1990s.

There are also fact sheets and visuals to use on social media. In the U.S., the Girls Lead Act, or S.2766, is in need of support. This bill would provide funding for education initiatives for the millions of girls worldwide. This bill also focuses on the lack of girls in politics, science and technology; it will fund programs to make these fields of study more accessible. Beginning with education and stable living conditions, girls living in poverty won’t have to fear losing their futures.

Raven Heyne
Photo: Flickr

Afghanistan’s population of 36 million has suffered violent conflict in recent history. According to the UN, the scarcity of water in Afghanistan remains the greatest obstacle blocking its path to national stability. Here are five things to know about water in Afghanistan.

5 Things to Know About Water in Afghanistan

  1. Afghanistan’s instability has brought more than war to the people who live there. According to the United Nations, the worst result of the political unrest and lack of sound government in Afghanistan is lack of water accessibility. A reported 22 of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces currently suffer from drought. Only 67% of people have access to safe drinking water.
  2. Most people in Afghanistan do not have access to proper sanitation. Only 43% of people in Afghanistan have access to safely managed sanitation, meaning citizens must be separated from contact with human waste. Diarrhoeal diseases, caused by poor sanitation, are the second most frequent cause of death for children under five years old, with a mortality rate of six out of 1,000 live births.
  3. Afghanistan has enough water for all of its people. The nation’s five prominent basins have the potential to provide around 3,063 cubic meters of water per capita. Therefore, the problem lies not with water availability but the government’s capacity to distribute it to the people. The government uses less than 60% of the water in four out of those five basins. The constant and destructive war seen recently in Afghanistan has largely destroyed the country’s water management system.
  4. Glacial depletion has contributed greatly to these problems. The glaciers of the Hindu Kush mountain range have long provided the majority of Afghanistan’s water. Due to rising average temperatures, however, these glaciers face depletion. Estimates predict that the Hindu Kush glaciers will lose 36% of their mass by the year 2100, initially causing destructive flooding and eventually leading to further drought. Afghanistan has also recently seen a 62% drop in precipitation. The Ministry of Water and Energy has identified glacier depletion as the cause of its troubles.
  5. Despite these challenges, organizations are stepping in to help. UNICEF has named open defecation and a severe lack of water distribution in impoverished regions as major contributors to Afghanistan’s sanitation problem. The organization aims to eliminate open defecation by 2025 through public education about building and using latrines to keep people healthy. UNICEF has also helped the Ministry of Rural Rehabilitation and Development implement a water supply project to reconstruct the nation’s water systems. USAID has stepped in as well to impact the situation. With the help of USAID, 1.5 million people received drinking water access between 2008 and 2017 and 200,000 people received improved sanitation between 2008 and 2017.

While access to water and sanitation remains a major issue in Afghanistan, the situation is improving. UNICEF reports that in 2017, almost 300,000 people in Afghanistan gained clean water access. The percentage of people in Afghanistan practicing open defecation dropped from 26.2% to 12.74% between 2000 and 2017. Since then, the efforts of organizations such as UNICEF and USAID continue to make a positive impact on sanitation and water in Afghanistan. 

– Will Sikich
Photo: Flickr