5 Ways Music Helps Impoverished Youth
For many cultures, music is a primary form of expression. It serves as an outlet for struggles with identity, relationships, politics and even poverty. Since music encapsulates various elements of a culture, it is essential for heritage preservation and for spreading awareness about the adversity that the respective cultures face. Music is a universal language, capable of reaching out and touching the hearts of any listener. This includes children, who are extremely receptive to music and are capable of learning of its benefits and values. Here are five examples that show how music helps impoverished youth cope with their experiences and spread awareness of the world’s poor.

5 Examples of Music Helping Impoverished Youth

  1. A group of Yazidi girls formed a choir to preserve their cultural identities after suffering through sex slavery. Yazidi was recently overrun by the Islamic State military, resulting in thousands of young girls being sold into slavery. One of these girls was Rainas Elias, who was taken by ISIS at the age of 14. Two years after her kidnapping, Elias is one of the 14 young women who formed a choir that performs traditional Yazidi songs as a means of coping with their past traumatic experiences. In early February, the girls took a trip abroad to perform at the House of Parliament and Westminster Abbey. Since Yazidi music is not traditionally written or recorded, British violinist Michael Bochmann has been working with the choir. They are recording the songs, which are then archived in the Bodleian Library at Oxford University. This work helps preserve an important piece of Yazidi culture while simultaneously providing a healing experience to the girls involved.
  2. “Fresh Kid” is an 8-year-old rapper from Uganda who sings about his family’s struggles with poverty. His real name is Patrick Ssenyonjo and he began hearing songs on the radio at a very young age and could immediately memorize and repeat them. Soon, Fresh Kid was performing for his local community, rapping about struggles that he, his friends and his family face. Uganda’s lack of electricity and poor transportation standards are two primary causes behind the nation’s impoverished circumstances. Although the country has seen vast improvements in recent years, there are still many developments to be made. Fresh Kid’s music draws attention to this issue while his success provides hope to impoverished youth across the globe.
  3. Schools in Venezuela are teaching classical music to students as a means of transcending poverty. Venezuelan conductor Jose Antonio Abreu established the State Foundation for the National System of Youth and Children’s Orchestras of Venezuela in 1996. Otherwise known as The System, the program educates students on how to read and perform classical music. The System provides students with an artistic outlet in a professional atmosphere, resulting in the development of discipline and passion that is often unattainable by impoverished youth. Students living in poverty have made up 70 percent of the program’s participants since its creation. The foundation has produced world-renowned talents such as Gustavo Dudamel, conductor of the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra, and Edicson Ruiz, the youngest bass player to ever perform with the Berlin Philharmonic. Venezuela continues to suffer from a collapsed economy and corrupt politics, with an unemployment rate of 44 percent. The System grants Venezuela’s poorest children the chance to rise above these issues while spreading an appreciation for classical music.
  4. The Afghanistan National Institute of Music (ANIM) teaches traditional music to students. Half of these students come from poor backgrounds. The school instructs both Western and Afghan classical music as well as basic subjects like math and science. The school prides itself on embracing the education of Afghanistan’s less advantaged youth including girls, orphans and street-working vendors. One significant product of ANIM is Afghanistan’s first all-female orchestra. Not only does the school provide a well-rounded curriculum, but its music-oriented focus promotes the resurgence of cultural factors that were once banned by Taliban rule. ANIM demonstrates the influence music has by bringing social change and emotional healing to impoverished youth.
  5. Ghetto Classics is a youth orchestra featuring more than 500 children from Korogocho. The orchestra is a result of the Art of Music Foundation, a non-profit dedicated to improving the lives of impoverished youth in Eastern Africa by integrating classical music studies into schools. The director of the Art of Music Foundation, Elizabeth Wamuni Njoroge, founded Ghetto Classics in 2008 after a local Catholic priest requested that the foundation start teaching classical music to the youth. Njoroge states that the community was skeptical of the idea at first, partially because of distrust in NGOs and partly because classical music is quite different than the hip-hop and reggae that locals are accustomed to. However, Korogocho soon warmed up to the idea, and Ghetto Classics is now one of the most valued and successful community projects to exist in Korogocho. Since its foundation, the orchestra has extended to 14 other schools in Eastern Africa. Ghetto Classics and similar programs help students to grasp core life values and provides a fresh outlook on life.

Music has the power to preserve generations of cultural value. It can also spark interest and motivation in the minds of impoverished youth. These stories demonstrate the potential music has to raise awareness for issues such as sex slavery and poverty. Since music is directly tied to heritage and tradition, it can bring about major social change without eliminating the cultural identity of a society. These five examples of how music helps impoverished youth serve as proof that something as simple as the beat of a drum can contribute to the fight against global poverty, one tap at a time.

Harley Goebel
Photo: Flickr

12 Facts About Hunger in Afghanistan 
Due to decades of conflict, environmental disaster and economic instability, Afghanistan is one of the world’s poorest nations. One of the largest issues to building national stability for Afghanistan is the remaining issue of food insecurity. Hunger and malnutrition are the biggest risks to health worldwide, according to the United Nations. Hunger prevents people from reaching their full potential by limiting their ability to work and learn. Here are 12 facts about hunger in Afghanistan.

12 Facts About Hunger in Afghanistan

  1. By the end of 2019, average wheat and staple food production contributed to stable pricing. Even though food prices have been stabilizing, households are unable to purchase necessary food because there are few opportunities to work. Even when work is available, the pay is not high enough to account for all living costs. People in Afghanistan, on average, spend 60 percent of their income on food.
  2. It is essential to invest in agriculture in Afghanistan, as it is almost 25 percent of the GDP. At least 50 percent of all households attribute at least part of their income to agriculture. The World Bank suggests that the most promising agricultural opportunities will be to invest in growing irrigated wheat and horticulture and to raise livestock. With the combination of investing in the growth of investment in these agricultural products, the World Bank estimates that there is the potential for the growth of 1.3 million jobs over a period of 10 years.
  3. The International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) estimates that approximately 38 percent of rural households face food shortages. It also determines that 21 percent of the rural population lives in extreme poverty due to continuing conflict in the region, drought and floods. In addition to this range of factors, agricultural production has decreased due to insufficient investment in the sector, crop diseases and pests.
  4. The World Bank also reports that over the past decade, hunger in Afghanistan has risen from 28 to 45 percent. The International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) works closely with the Afghan government and development partners to reduce gender disparities and increase the social and economic status of vulnerable and marginalized communities. IFAD does this by increasing access to financial institutions in remote or rural areas, enhancing the skills of rural households and strengthening local infrastructure.
  5. From November 2019 to March 2020, the IPC, a coalition of U.N. agencies working on food insecurity, predicts that the number of people experiencing severe food insecurity will rise to 11.3 million. According to the IPC, continued conflict, mass migration back to the region, predictions of rising crop prices in the winter and unemployment are the main contributors to rising hunger in Afghanistan at the end of 2019 and the beginning of 2020.
  6. The Famine Early Warning Systems Network, predicts that 820,000 people will require food assistance through January 2020 in Afghanistan. It expects this number to rise between these dates because of the returning displaced citizens from Pakistan and Iran. USAID’s Office of Food for Peace, the U.N. World Food Programme (WFP), the U.N. Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and local NGOs will provide food assistance.
  7. High rates of malnutrition and lack of the right variety of food for children in Afghanistan have contributed to a variety of health issues. Only 12 percent of children from 6 months to 2 years old receive the correct quantity of food in order to grow, according to UNICEF. This results in problems such as stunting, wasting and anemia. These problems result in ongoing health issues throughout a lifetime.
  8. Mercy Corps, a global humanitarian organization, provides extensive support to farmers in Afghanistan through a U.N. grant. From 2015 to 2019, the $34.6 million grant supported more than 7,380 farmers by training them to plant and produce opium alternative crops including grapes, almonds, pistachios, saffron and vegetables.
  9. One of the largest supporters of ending hunger in Afghanistan is the U.N. World Food Programme. The World Food Programme provides monthly food and cash for a period of six months while vocationally training men and women. In 2018 in Afghanistan, the WFP program had 14,000 women and 3,000 men graduate and learn income-generating skills. Additionally, between January and June 2019, WFP assisted more than 3.2 million people across 31 of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces.
  10. UNICEF and the World Health Organization (WHO) set up a national surveillance system in Afghanistan in 2013. The purpose of it is to guide the government and NGO partners to collect and analyze data in order to quickly address nutritional challenges or emergencies. Since 2013, the WHO has trained 1,500 community health workers to accurately collect nutritional metrics and quarterly report data from 175 sentinel sites around the country.
  11. A paper in partnership with the World Bank in 2018, the Investment Framework for Nutrition in Afghanistan, examined what would be necessary for Afghanistan to improve nutrition. This endeavor also included efforts to reduce stunting and invest more in children’s health for Afghanistan’s Ministry of Public Health’s (MOPH) Basic Package of Health Service implementation for 2018 to 2021. The total estimated public investment necessary would be $44 million a year for five years. This money would prevent 25,000 deaths, 90,000 cases of anemia and 4,000 cases of stunting in children.
  12. Since 2005, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the U.N. has worked to improve the production of dairy in collaboration with Afghanistan’s Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock. The results of this partnership have been the establishment of five dairy process plants and 64 milk collection centers. From 2005 to 2017, production per cow went from 3.5 to 9.1 liters, resulting in annual household income growing from $371 to $852 through the sale of extra milk.

Although there are many challenges in the region to building local capacity to handle food insecurity, there are many Afghani and global organizations that are continuing to help formulate strategies to bring about change. These 12 facts about hunger in Afghanistan shed some light on these issues.

Danielle Barnes
Photo: Flickr

Health Improvements in Afghanistan
Conflict has torn Afghanistan apart. Like all conflicts, it is the innocent civilians that suffer the most. Afghanistan continues to face a great amount of insecurity within its borders. Yet, despite the harsh conditions that are an everyday reality for civilians, the country continues to make additional health improvements. Here are seven health improvements in Afghanistan.

7 Health Improvements in Afghanistan

  1. Increased Health Facilities: Readily available health facilities initiated health improvements in Afghanistan, according to the Senior Health Specialist at the World Bank, Ghulam Dastagir Sayed. As of 2003, there were only 500 health facilities available for Afghan civilians. As of 2018, that number skyrocketed to 2,500 facilities. These facilities are located all over Afghanistan, but USAID makes it clear that low-income populations and rural areas are the most important to reach.
  2. The International Midwife Association: NGOs in Afghanistan have trained over 4,000 community midwives around the country and provided them with the necessary information to provide anti-natal care, postnatal care,  deliveries and immunization services to the people of Afghanistan. The NGO International Midwife Association has helped women in Afghanistan. Before it provided this help, many women did not have the necessary knowledge and help to have a safe pregnancy.
  3. Infant Mortality Rate: Afghanistan has the highest infant mortality rate in the world. However, from the year 2003 to 2015 the number of children dying before their 5th birthday has dropped by a total of 34 percent. This has lowered deaths from 137 per 1,000 births to 91 per 1,000 births. Health services and a better health care system in Afghanistan have caused these numbers to drop.
  4. Pregnant Women: Health care available to pregnant women in the country has also been among the health improvements in Afghanistan. From 2010 to the year 2018, health professionals have seen pregnant women at an increase of 3.5 percent each year. Additionally, women’s use of contraceptives and the number of births that professionals aided increased by 2 percent during the same eight years. The Afghani government has launched effective national health campaigns that have educated Afghani women and led them to seek out professional help during pregnancy. Women in the country are benefiting greatly through these increased health services. From the year 2003 to 2015, the number of women dying per 100,000 births has reduced by 64 percent. Similar to the improved child mortality rate above, a better health care system that reaches and educates Afghan women about their health has caused these improvements.
  5. The Afghanistan Development Association (ADA): NGOs are working to contribute to health improvements in Afghanistan. Seventy-two percent of the NGOs in the country are Afghan and are on the front lines providing medical treatment. One such NGO is the Afghanistan Development Association. ADA provides development and humanitarian aid to the country of Afghanistan.
  6. Drug Availability: Drug availability has risen in the country. It rose from 13.8 percent in the years from 2004 to 2010 and an additional 0.6 percent in the years 2011 to 2016. The government established the National Medicine and Health Products Regulatory Authority (NMHRA) that regulates medicines and other health products. This is one such program that is helping medicinal drug availability. Many Afghans have had to resort to smuggling medicinal drugs from neighboring countries or rely on traditional medicine. While Afghanistan has improved this problem, it can only continue its progress through programs like the NMHRA.
  7. Patient Counselling: Patient counseling is an important part of health care. From 2004 to 2010, patient counseling saw an increase of 6 percent annually followed by an additional 1.3 annually between the years 2011 and 2016. Patient counseling is important in the realm of family planning and child services.

While Afghanistan is still a country with many problems, one cannot deny that the progress it is making deserves celebration. The Afghan government partly made many of these improvements by actively engaging NGOs to tackle the health issues within its borders.

Jacob E. Lee
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

 

Sanitation in Afghanistan
Following decades of civil war and negligence, Afghanistan has been experiencing a crisis regarding clean water and sanitation. The lack of an internal plan and a water infrastructure deficit had elicited urgent consequences such as various waterborne diseases and diarrhoeal diseases. Many organizations such as UNICEF took notice and decided to address this issue at its core. By providing funding and necessary resources, there has been evident progress within Afghanistan towards clean water and better sanitation. Here are 10 facts about sanitation in Afghanistan.

 10 Facts About Sanitation in Afghanistan

  1. Limited Sanitation: According to the State of the World’s Toilets 2007 report, about 92 percent of Afghanistan’s estimated 26.6 million population did not have access to proper sanitation. Meanwhile, the number reduced to 61 percent by 2017. With this being said, poor sanitation exposes people, mainly children and elders, to life-threatening diseases. This issue also affects women and girls, putting them at risk for both physical and psychological damage. It affects menstrual, pregnancy and postnatal periods and creates an unsafe environment when in these periods.

  2. Turmoil: One can see the increasing number of cases surrounding poor sanitation as a direct consequence of the damage inflicted by years of war. Beginning in 1992, constant fighting between different mujahidin groups left cities such as Kabul in ruins, further damaging the water infrastructure. Following in 1996, the Taliban took over but did little to nothing to improve the already damaged water infrastructure, including necessary water pumps. Afghanistan, to this day, is still in turmoil, leaving no priority for local governments to improve sanitation and increase access to clean water.

  3. Lack of Reservoirs, Canals and Infrastructure: One major aspect as to why Afghanistan has a difficult time accessing clean water is the evident lack of water infrastructure. Geographically, Afghanistan is a landlocked nation that automatically creates a difficult landscape to receive clean water; therefore, Afghanistan depends on the natural flow of the snow runoff coming from the mountains. There are reservoirs to collect this water, but it is just not enough. Because of the lack of proper water infrastructure, only 30 percent of the water derived from the runoff stays in Afghanistan. Investment towards improving infrastructure is also scarce as the government does not see it as a prominent issue.

  4. Open Defecation: Open defecation is an issue that many countries face on a daily basis; however, it has been an astonishingly prevalent issue in Afganistan. It places many of the individuals and families leaving near waterways in much danger as human waste spreads disease quickly. To combat this issue, UNICEF alongside the Ministries of Rural Rehabilitation and Development, Public Health and Education have partnered to end open defecation by 2025. They are pushing for the Community-Led Total Sanitation approach which advocates for people to build and use their own latrines.

  5. Increase Water Supply: In addition to implementing a plan against open defecation, UNICEF and the Ministries of Rural Rehabilitation and Development, Public Health, and Education have been working to increase water supply to impoverished communities. They aim to steer the public to get clean water through the reliance of rivers, streams, wells, etc. Also, UNICEF aims to increase the government’s capacity to construct local water supply systems. Because of this new agenda, more than 300,000 new people living in Afghanistan received clean water in 2017.

  6. Water Systems: UNICEF is prioritizing gravity-fed piped drinking water systems or systems with solar pumps instead of regular boreholes with handpumps. These methods should provide more water, easy maintenance and close proximity even though they are slightly more expensive. Right now, most of the water comes from the five major rivers in Afghanistan, but this system brings water in an efficient and sustainable way.

  7. Action Within Schools: An important place to advocate for proper sanitation would be in the school environment, and UNICEF has done just that. Working with the Ministry of Education, UNICEF has aimed to create clean school environments and provide proper hygiene information in Afghanistan. This plan includes providing clean water, separate bathrooms and new handwashing stations in schools. This program is growing and is starting to enter more schools.

  8. Sanitation Efforts Aimed at Women: Some have also taken action towards improving sanitation conditions within schools and workplace settings for women and girls. By installing separate bathrooms for males and females, it provides women the opportunity to manage menstruation in a clean environment. Also, the ongoing introduction of curricula surrounding menstrual hygiene promotes rehabilitation and helps girls all around Afghanistan.

  9. Proper Sanitation in Emergencies: Launched in 2005, UNICEF created the WASH emergency center in Afghanistan. This group of various organizations respond during emergencies and help provide clean water, hygiene education and sanitation facilities to the people. For example, they gave hygiene kits to displaced families in the village of Kamalpoor. The kits included soap, detergent, towels, sanitary pads and a plastic bucket to collect water.

  10. Health Centres: Most importantly, UNICEF has aimed to make sure that hospitals and health centers are in proper condition to treat patients. The WASH program implemented focused on improving infection programs and patient safety. It is important to pay attention to the health of patients and to decrease as many cases of disease and death as possible, especially in the case of women and children.

Although Afghanistan still has some way to go, it has made tremendous improvements to its sanitation systems. With continued aid from organizations like UNICEF, it should only continue its progression towards clean water and sanitation for all.

–  Srihita Adabala
Photo: Flickr

Although there is a vaccine, Polio is still a global problem. Here are some facts on eradicating Polio in developing countries.
People often think of polio as a disease of the past; but for many in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria, it is still a very real threat. Poliomyelitis, more commonly known as Polio, is an infectious disease that can result in base level symptoms similar to the flu, or on the more extreme end, it can invade an individual’s spinal cord or brain causing paralysis. Paralysis is the symptom people most commonly associate with Polio because of how deadly it can be. As the disease progresses slowly, the individual eventually loses function across their body and requires outside assistance to do even the most basic task of breathing. Without medical assistance, the individual will asphyxiate. Here is some information about eradicating Polio in developing countries.

Eliminating Polio

Vaccination is the only way to eradicate Polio. Children’s bodies become prepared to fight the disease more effectively with vaccination. Almost all children or 99 out of 100 will have protection from Polio as long as they receive all recommended courses of the vaccination.

However, sanitation also plays a key role in preventing the spread of Polio in the interim. The virus lives in individuals’ throats and intestines, so open sewage systems can leave a community more vulnerable to the spreading virus. The virus can thrive in feces for weeks before dying, leaving plenty of opportunities for people to come into contact with the virus and spread it.

Eradicating Polio is highly dependent on herd immunization, so it is integral that mass vaccination initiatives go to all corners of a country. By immunizing everyone who can take the vaccine, the risk of the disease spreading and those unable to take the vaccine contracting it reduces.

The Reasons Polio Still Exists in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria

Though there have been major advancements in eradicating Polio in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria, they still remain vulnerable due to the fear that the vaccine may cause fainting spells and death in children, which are false claims. Additionally, open sewage systems in rural areas and the difficulty to dispense full courses of vaccination to individuals in rural areas play a role in the continued life of Polio.

There is also the issue of spreading. In Afghanistan and Pakistan, the majority of new cases of Polio are often in the tribal areas surrounding the shared border of the two countries. The unchecked border often has people traveling back and forth so they are hard to pin down to receive their full course of vaccinations. This also allows for the virus to spread faster and makes it more difficult to isolate the infected.

Nigeria is doing relatively well with the fight towards eradicating Polio. The country no longer has an active outbreak, but it is at high risk of having an outbreak. This is due to active initiatives within the country to assure widespread vaccination and hygiene education to prevent the spread of the virus.

Mutations

Another massive issue these countries and doctors are having with eradicating Polio is that the virus is mutating. In June 2017, there were 21 cases of vaccine-derived Polio in the world. This has been caused by remnants of the oral vaccine getting loose in the environment where it is regaining strength and infecting people. The oral vaccine is from a weak form of the Poliovirus that allows the recipient’s immune system to fight off the virus and become more adept at fighting the active virus if it ever enters their body.

Many also consider the mutated and strengthened strain of the vaccine-derived disease to be more deadly as it has a higher risk of causing paralysis in those infected.

Solutions

The organization, Global Polio Eradication Initiative, is a public-private partnership working in tandem with national governments and private partners including the World Health Organization (WHO), Rotary International, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Together, they are attempting to roll out vaccines and education programs to aid in eradicating Polio internationally. The organization works with 200 countries and 20 million volunteers to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to live a life free of the pain Polio brings upon individuals and communities.

As of 2019, it has vaccinated over 2.5 billion children, and the number is only growing. This is an incredibly important program, as the alleviation of the threat of infection for every reduces the stress on government health programs. There is also a reduction in the personal and financial burden of contracting and surviving Polio from the shoulders of millions of families.

Through vigilant vaccination distribution and educational programs, the hope is that in the near future, people will be able to live in a world free from the crippling implications of the Poliovirus.

– Emma Hodge
Photo: Flickr

Water Crisis in the Middle East
Syria, Egypt and Afghanistan are among the bottom 10 countries when talking about access to clean water. Water is a primary necessity for human life. Without food the body can survive for up to three weeks, however, without clean water, the body will perish within three to four days, but not before going into shock and fading in and out of delirium. The water crisis in the Middle East is a serious problem now that ongoing conflicts in the region have only worsened.

Afghanistan

Of the three countries listed above, the water crisis in the Middle East affects Afghanistan the least. Despite that, Afghanistan is in the middle of the worst drought it has seen in the past 10 years. In addition, it cannot effectively distribute resources since 40 years of armed conflict following Soviet intervention in Afghanistan has ruined the country’s infrastructure. As a result, about 260,000 Afghani civilians living in extremely dry areas have had to leave their homes, making them refugees.

The drought has drained natural water sources such as the Kabul River Basin, the primary source of water for the nation’s capital. The established system for distributing water is no longer applicable, so civilians must draw water from unofficial wells. In Afghanistan, a country with over 35 million people, 87 percent of accessible water is polluted. Fortunately, India is providing assistance with the Afghan-India Friendship Dam on the Hari River. With further plans to build another dam on the Kabul River, Afghanistan will have water for irrigation and will not have to live with the threat of flash floods.

Syria

In 2006, a massive drought began that would displace tens of thousands of Syrian farmers. By 2011, there were over a million angry, unemployed former farmers in the country ready to fight in a violent civil war that would go on for years. If one said that the water crisis in the Middle East was the proverbial lit match in the powder keg, it would be inaccurate. One cannot, however, deny that it did fan the flames.

Now that tensions are dying down, Syrian civilians have little infrastructure to help provide them with water. Militant groups that occupy water plants and reservoirs hold monopolies on the water for entire regions. Oftentimes, these groups distribute water selectively to blackmail their enemies. Prior to the civil war that started in 2011, water allocation was already inequitable. President Bashar al-Assad allocated more water to fellow members of his particular sect of Islam. Now that Syria is rebuilding its infrastructure, there exists an opportunity to distribute water equally across the country in order to help prevent humanitarian disasters like this in the future.

Egypt

Even in the time of the pharaohs, Egypt has owed its life to the Nile. The Nile is the primary source of water for a country with rice as its number one agricultural export. Rice requires a great deal of water for cultivation and harvest. One kilo of rice needs about 3,000 liters of water. The water in the Nile now contains dead fish due to heavy metals from industrial pollution. Using heavily polluted water diminishes crop yields leading to a further strain on resources.

Egypt faces more than just a drop in the quality of water. As a result of the Blue Nile dam that Ethiopia built, Egypt is also concerned about the quantity of water. By building a hydroelectric dam on the Nile upstream from Egypt, Ethiopia is developing a power grid to reach 86 million Ethiopians living without electricity. Consequently, this will divert about a quarter of the Nile’s water away from Egypt. The Nile supplies 85 percent of Egypt’s fresh water. Egypt has the most to lose in the event of armed conflict breaking out because of its water scarcity, so it is now pushing for diplomatic and scientific solutions to the problem. Negotiating with Ethiopia to share in the dam’s benefits and investments in desalination technology is helping to alleviate the water crisis.

The water crisis in the Middle East is serious and requires much work to alleviate the problem. Through the building of better infrastructure, however, Egypt, Syria and Afghanistan should be able to improve.

– Nicholas Smith
Photo: Flickr

peace and stability in Afghanistan
Afghanistan is one of the poorest countries in the world. The government estimates that 43.6 percent of the country’s total population in rural areas lives below the national poverty line. According to the latest United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs data, about 2.9 million Afghans are internally displaced, 22 percent of whom fled their homes in 2016 alone.

Despite improvements over the past decade, Afghanistan, maintains the lowest educational outcomes in South Asia. The country continues to lag in average educational attainment compared to other low-income and fragile countries. Moreover, girls fall further behind in educational outcomes. As of 2013-14, only 20.3 percent of Afghan women above the age of 15 are literate. The major cause of poverty and the lag in primary education in Afghanistan is the ongoing conflict that has lasted for over three decades.

Instability and Conflicts in Afghanistan

Since the Soviet invasion in 1979, the country endured many conflicts that stunted its ability to prosper and improve. For the past 20 years, the Taliban government became the leading cause of poverty and the prevention of peace and stability for Afghanistan.

After the refusal to turn in terrorist leader Osama Bin Laden to the United States after the 9/11 attacks, the extremist military organization joined countless conflicts with the U.S. whilst refusing any ethical attempts toward peace. Nevertheless, many provided aid to the Afghan people and looked for a peaceful solution.

At the North Atlantic Treaty Organization Summit and at the donors’ conference on Afghanistan in Brussels in 2016, Afghanistan received reassurances of continued international assistance for its security and development needs. The United Nations is part of this group of leaders as it deployed a team in the ground called the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA). UNAMA, which Afghanistan leads, promotes security, stability and development in Afghanistan. It looks forward to peace negotiations between the Afghan Government and armed opposition groups.

USAID is another organization that works toward peace and stability for Afghanistan. The agency provided food security by implementing an agriculture program that increased agricultural productivity and rural employment. It also provided access to a healthier lifestyle for Afghans by getting health care professionals and introducing people to healthier habits. The ability to build roads, schools and clinics is a huge step toward peace and stability for Afghanistan. USAID is helping make Afghanistan a better place for younger generations.

The Afghan Institute of Learning

The Afghan Institute of Learning (AIL) shares in USAID’s goals and made great strides toward a sustainable future for children. The AIL helps local people set up centers of learning and provides high-quality teacher training and administrative skills training so these centers can thrive. The centers give the Afghan people the opportunity to have literacy skills. Afghanistan has one of the lowest literacy rates in the world, currently estimated at 31 percent of the adult population. AIL addresses this issue by giving children education from preschool and having discussions with adults about current world problems. Children who study at AIL’s learning centers joined government schools at age-appropriate grade levels. Gaining literacy is life-changing for adults and children who often go on to study other subjects increasing their capacity to support themselves.

Many other organizations are addressing the increasing poverty rates and helping toward achieving peace and stability for Afghanistan. As the Afghan government and other international governments involve themselves, there is hope for Afghan people.

Andrea Viera
Photo: Flickr

Bacha Posh girls

Afghanistan’s patriarchal society forces parents to make tough decisions as daughters are viewed as a burden while sons can earn money, care for their aging parents, and carry on the family legacy. To counter economic dependency on males and social stigma surrounding daughters, some Afghan families practice “bacha posh,” a centuries-old tradition reassigning their daughter’s gender at birth, which allows girls to experience the same freedom as boys.

Bacha posh girls are raised as sons. They dress in boys’ clothes and may go outside alone, bring their siblings from school, go shopping, and play a sport. These girls act as sons and do what the sons would do. While the roots of the tradition are unknown, it is becoming increasingly practiced.

Life For Girls In Afghanistan

Afghanistan is one of the most challenging countries to live in as a woman. Eighty-five percent of Afghan women have no formal education or are illiterate, 50 percent are married or engaged by the age of 12 and 60 percent are married by 16. Three decades of war have led to increased risk of rape and kidnapping of females which has prompted families to force child marriage. Some are forced into marriage to settle a dispute or repay a debt. Many men were killed in armed conflict, leaving the child brides as widows. Most young widows have four children to support and are often forced to beg or participate in prostitution. Child marriage increases the risk of health problems and death because of childbirth in the teenage years. Young wives are also more likely to be abused by their older husbands. Females also have lower legal standing and fewer economic opportunities. Women are hidden from society unless accompanied by a male relative and fully covered.

Widespread poverty encourages families to get their daughters married to avoid having to care for them. Afghanistan is one of the poorest nations in the world with 42 percent of both urban and rural populations living below the national poverty line. An additional 20 percent are at risk of falling into poverty.

Bacha Posh Girls

In poverty-stricken families, bacha posh becomes a normal thing to do. Because boys have a higher status, they are more desirable. The tradition allows families to avoid social stigma affiliated with not having any male children by enabling their daughters to take on the role of a boy in society.

Life for bacha posh girls becomes difficult as puberty reveals their biological gender. The girls often face harassment, risks to their safety, humiliation, and separation from their communities. Others call them transsexuals and Anti-Islamic. Some girls even stop going to school because of the harassment. Families also want their girls to start dressing and behaving like women during puberty, but bacha posh girls do not want to live as a woman in a country that gives them little possibility after experiencing the freedom of males.

Women for Afghan Women, an Afghanistan advocacy group, sees at least two bacha posh girls’ cases at its women shelters throughout the country each year. Most girls, between the ages of 14 – 18, are struggling emotionally, mentally and financially.

NGOs and Government Organizations Leading the Fight

USAID has had direct involvement in Afghanistan’s moves toward gender equality. While the problem of gender inequality remains, there have been positive strides in women’s health and education. Over the past 15 years, the life expectancy for a female in the Middle Eastern nation has “increased from 47 years old to over 60.” Female education has also seen a spike as 3.5 million girls are in school, and 100,000 attend university. USAID aims to continue to develop gender equality by assisting Afghan girls through programs offering support for survivors of sex trafficking, increasing educational opportunities, assisting female entrepreneurs with economic growth and infrastructure, and partnering with the Afghan government to focus on women’s rights.

Mullahs and volunteers from the United Nations have partnered together to travel throughout Afghanistan to conquer cultural and social norms to work towards gender equality in both rural and urban regions. The advocacy groups travel around the country in hopes to eliminate violence against women, increase female access to healthcare and education, and economic equality for women. Volunteers from the UN are working to strengthen the Enhancing Gender Equality and Mainstreaming in Afghanistan which hopes to bolster the Ministry of Women Affairs.

– Gwen Shemm
Photo: Flickr

Sonita Alizadeh’s Feminist Advocacy
Sonita Alizadeh is a 22-year-old rapper from Herat, Afghanistan. She became an advocate for humanitarian issues such as child marriage in 2014 after winning $1,000 in a U.S. music competition where she wrote a song encouraging Afgan people to vote. Sonita’s music video “Brides for Sale” also premiered in 2014 on YouTube, kickstarting her career and garnering over one million views as of 2019. This article will focus on Afghanistan’s policies on child marriage, Sonita’s history and how Sonita’s advocacy is making an impact. All of these aspects highlight the importance of Sonita Alizadeh’s feminist advocacy.

Afganistan and Child Marriage

In 1997, the Republic of Afghanistan permitted girls under the age of 16 to marry with the consent of their father or a judge under a civil code. In 1994, the Afghanistan government set the minimum age of marriage to 18, and in 2009 passed the Elimination of Violence Against Women (EVAW) law; yet people often do not implement protections. The advocacy organization against child marriage, Girls Not Brides, cites UNICEF’s statistics for child marriage in Afganistan as of 2017: 9 percent of girls marry by 15 and 35 percent marry by 18.

Child marriages that still happen in Afghanistan often occur for several reasons including a lack of female education, displacement, dispute settlements for rival families and traditional family values and practices.

Afghanistan has made progress such as making ending child marriage a sustainable development (SDG) goal by 2030. Afghan women, such as Sonita Alizadeh, are speaking out when the government is not helping them effectively. That is why Sonita Alizadeh’s feminist advocacy is vital; it gives the people that child marriage affects a chance to speak for themselves.

Sonita Alizadeh’s History

Sonita Alizadeh and members of her family escaped Taliban rule in Afghanistan and journeyed to Tehran, Iran. There, Sonita began creating music, although it is illegal for women to sing a solo in the country. Her music was about the hardships she had seen her friends endure in Afghanistan when their parents encouraged them to marry as young as 12.

Sonita had to advocate for herself at 16 when her mother visited her from Afghanistan. Sonita received the opportunity to return to her home country if agreed to marry. Her mother planned to have a dowry set with a man for $9,000 for Sonita as a bride. This prompted Sonita to make her first YouTube video in response to her predicament, the video “Brides for Sale.” The video got the attention of the Strongheart organization in the U.S. The group sponsored 17-year-old Sonita in 2014 with a student visa to attend Wasatch Academy in Utah on a full scholarship. Sonita’s first concert in America was in May 2015, and she began sending money home to her mother living in Afghanistan.

Sonita’s Activism

After moving to the U.S., Sonita Alizadeh used her platform to speak about child marriage. Her YouTube channel has 12 videos that range from her music to interviews to Sonita’s graduation speech from Wasatch Academy in 2018. Sonita uses her platform to educate the 11.1 thousand subscribers she had as of 2019. BBC listed Sonita as one of its 100 women people should recognize in 2015 and inspired a European documentary based on her life that premiered in 2016 and won a NETPAC Award.

Recently, Sonita debuted a new song at the 2018 Social Good Summit concert in New York City. As of 2019, Sonita attends Bard College in New York where she represented her school in the Women Warriors: The Voices of Change concert event at the Lincoln Center in September 2019. Organizations such as the Strongheart Group, Global Citizen and the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Organization support Sonita’s Alizadeh’s feminist advocacy.

Conclusion

The voices of Afghan women are vital in battling injustice. Sonita Alizadeh’s feminist advocacy highlights the determination of one woman to empower women forced into child marriages. The light Sonita sheds on the hardships Afghan women are also valuable as a form of advocacy, making those who did not grow up with her background understand the needs of women in dire situations.

Natalie Casaburi
Photo: Flickr

10 Facts About Child Labor in Afghanistan
Child labor is prevalent in Afghanistan partly due to the quarrelsome war between its government and the Taliban. The country remains one of the poorest in the world where corruption and greed riddle workplaces. Children work long hours and in servile ways to provide goods for their families. It is the only way they are able to survive in an environment marked by poor conditions and minimal social opportunities. Below are 10 facts about child labor in Afghanistan.

10 Facts About Child Labor in Afghanistan

  1. The Motivation for Child Labor: A quarter of kids between the ages of 5 and 14 in the country suffer the burden of working in jobs that are hazardous to their health and well being. The main reason kids work is to help their families survive economically and bring food to the table.
  2. Types of Labor: Children work in many dangerous jobs, such as metal workers, tinsmiths, welders, miners, in the carpet industry and street vendors where the hours are long and the pay is not favorable. One of the jobs that children most fear is bonded labor where they work in brick kilns. Bosses force the children to owe a debt and it becomes insurmountable. The salary children earn is not enough to help them and their families afford a daily meal.
  3. Minimum Employment Age: Afghanistan’s labor law states that the minimum employment age is 18 and prohibits children under 14 from working. Children between the ages of 15 and 17 can work in jobs that express vocational training where the environment is not harmful. The hazardous conditions children must go through at work violates the country’s labor laws.
  4. Limited Enforcement of Labor Laws: According to the Human Rights Watch, the labor law was due for an overhaul to meet international standards, but the government abated its plans to do so. This further interfered with the notion of a child-labor-free country. The safety of children is in jeopardy because the government has not enforced the prohibition against child labor. Children working in prohibited and dangerous jobs go unnoticed as a result of the government’s lack of capacity to inspect workplaces.
  5. Terrorist Groups: Every day, the country’s ongoing war makes matters worse by forcing children to live in constant fear. Various cities in Afghanistan become targets for terrorist groups on a daily basis. Children are at high risk of armed groups abducting them as well as being vulnerable to spontaneous attacks. Armed groups recruit children for use in an armed conflict where many of them face serious injuries, psychological damage and death. In 2018, the country’s government opened a juvenile rehabilitation center for kids formally involved in an armed conflict where it served 34 children.
  6. A Barrier to Education: According to Afghanistan’s Central Statistics, 55 percent of the country’s population lives in poverty. Illiteracy occurs because of the country’s high poverty level where many parents are not able to afford the prices for their children’s education. Around 3.7 million kids between the ages of 7 and 17 do not attend school, and 60 percent of them are girls. Children lose the opportunity to go to school because they need to work long hours in order to make a living and provide for their families’ basic needs. Armed groups constantly target school buildings to use as training grounds, leaving many kids in fear of attending classes.
  7. Girls Education: There is a very low enrollment rate for girls due to the lack of female teachers in Afghanistan. The education system is flawed and only 48 percent of teachers in the country possess minimum academic qualifications. Many schools lack the proper sanitation facilities needed to encourage girls to enroll and only 16 percent of schools in the country are all-girls.
  8. Girls’ Access to Teacher’s Education: To improve conditions, Girls’ Access to Teacher’s Education, a UNICEF supported program, offers a training course to female students in high-school who want to become teachers. UNICEF supported 5,300 community-based schools and accelerated learning centers in 2018, where children learn critical life skills and basic literacy and numeracy skills. As a result, 150,000 students, more than half of them girls, benefited from the organization’s well-doing. In addition, UNICEF worked with the Ministry of Education to provide hand washing stations, safe drinking water and menstrual hygiene curricula to various schools in the country.
  9. Dangers of Migration: Many children flee Afghanistan as a result of the violence and poverty that plague the country. Some kids go to Iran where they continue to work in hazardous environments. They do not attend school. Returnees are vulnerable to recruitment by armed groups and traffickers.
  10. Displacement Due to Natural Occurences: Displacement of populations is a constant occurrence in the country and a major cause of child labor. It is also a reason why poverty remains persistent. Natural occurrences such as floods force families to leave their communities and start a new life. In 2018, a displacement of 266,000 people in the northern and western parts of Afghanistan came as a result of severe drought, further perpetuating child labor along with the selling of daughters for marriage.

The 10 facts about child labor in Afghanistan above demonstrate how the country is in a state of crisis due to high poverty levels among the population. Child labor remains a main obstacle that people around the world need to be aware of in order to make a difference. Afghanistan’s current war only adds to the challenge. However, organizations like UNICEF are working hard to fix the issue and inspire economic progress.

– Eduardo Hernandez
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