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

The Afghanistan Relief Organization is a nonprofit based in the United States that provides aid and education to underprivileged people in Afghanistan. Afghans Abdul Satar and Aboul Fazil Khalili founded the organization in California in 1998. It is operated primarily by volunteers, including both Afghans and Americans, and is non-political and non-religious. In addition to providing direct aid, the organization promotes self-sufficiency in Afghanistan with its educational programs. The Afghanistan Relief Organization has impacted the lives of thousands of impoverished Afghans.

Direct Aid

Afghanistan is one of the most impoverished countries in the world. Over 40% of the population lives below the poverty line. Many more live just above the poverty line and are extremely vulnerable. In order to diminish the effects of poverty, the Afghanistan Relief Organization provides direct aid to thousands of Afghans. This aid includes food, school supplies, hygiene supplies, medicine and winter clothing. Many Afghans do not have stable access to these resources without the aid of an NGO like this one. By giving these supplies directly to people in need, the organization is able to improve the lives of countless impoverished Afghans.

Changing Lives With Education

Another service provided by the Afghanistan Relief Organization is education, which is available at its Technology Education Center in Kabul. This school provides free classes for children and adults, and has had thousands of students since its creation in 2003. The classes teach things like English, computer skills, physical education and job training. The instructors and staff at the school are willing to work for small salaries. As a result, the Afghanistan Relief Organization is able to use the majority of its funding to provide educational resources for the students.

The Afghanistan Relief Organization has also created a series of women’s literacy classes. In Afghanistan, there is a large gender disparity in education, and many women lack basic literacy. These classes give women an opportunity to develop the crucial literacy skills they need to support their families. There are multiple levels of classes available, and the organization also provides $50 per month for its students as support.

Celebrity Support

A wide range of celebrities have publicly supported the Afghanistan Relief Organization, including Jake Gyllenhaal, Benicio del Toro, Halle Berry and Richard Gere. In addition to providing financial support, these celebrities use their fame to give publicity to the organization. This helps mobilize more volunteers and donors. In 2007, the organization held an auction of traditional Afghan kites to raise funds. Celebrities such as Angelina Jolie, Will Ferrell and Natalie Portman signed some of these kites to increase their values. Support from celebrities like these has greatly helped the Afghanistan Relief Organization’s ability to fundraise and have a greater impact.

Afghanistan faces many problems due to its extreme poverty, and many Afghans do not have access to the resources they need. However, the Afghanistan Relief Organization has improved the living conditions of countless Afghans. The education that the organization provides, through its Technology Education Center, helps thousands of students. The Afghanistan Relief Organization is able to function due to the devotion of its instructors and staff who work for small salaries, as well as celebrities who continue to support the organization’s efforts.

– Gabriel Guerin
Photo: Needpix.com

Distance Learning
The appearance of COVID-19 late last year left education systems in disarray. The following months saw school closures across nations and the emergence of a completely new structure to education. In order to slow the spread of the infectious disease, governments closed schools and enforced quarantine guidelines. Students and teachers turned to education technology (EdTech) to continue schooling. School looked completely different— students and teachers interacted virtually, isolated within their homes. Some say the shift to distance learning is an opportunity to explore more personalized approaches, and may eventually improve education methods. However, that result can only be expected when countries and people have sufficient programs to support Edtech.

5 Countries Using EdTech to Improve Distance Learning

  1. Afghanistan: In order to combat the educational challenges of COVID-19, Afghanistan shifted to distance learning. In-person classes became broadcasted lessons. This solution is viable for the country because it utilizes existing technology throughout the nation. Broadcasting also offers advantages because it is compatible with so many different technologies, granting access to more people. Lessons could be broadcasted through television, websites, social media, or radio. Rumie.org, an international organization working to reduce barriers to education, has a program in Afghanistan that works to increase access to technology in struggling communities. They distribute digital learning resources and format their education plans to make them relevant across the nation. This organization aspires to make education more accessible, especially when distance learning is the only option available. Broadcasted school, in combination with organizations spreading interactive learning materials, is the future of Afghan education during the pandemic.
  2. Argentina: Argentina also has broadcasting capabilities and expands education options by offering both public channels run by the Ministry of Education and private channels contributing to university or community content. They also provide notebooks for children without access to broadcasting. Notebooks contain educational information and require the child to fill out the lesson plans. Seguimos Educando is another initiative supported by the Argentinian Ministry of Education. It is an online program that offers education by subject and includes everything from “self-learning resources, suggestions for families and teachers, films, interviews, educational and communication proposals through social networks and videoconferencing tools, agendas for online events as well as proposals for free time for students.” The government is committed to equal opportunity for students. The Argentinian government is asking companies to keep digital education free of charge. Additionally, they have been distributing tablets and netbooks to communities who would otherwise be unable to afford them.
  3. Bulgaria: Bulgaria began their adjustment to online learning by creating online textbooks and corresponding broadcasting channels. Using this method, students were expected to learn for about six hours a day. The Ministry of Education and Sciences has since introduced new programs to support their textbooks and broadcasting. For example, they organized an online library, the National Electronic Library of Teachers, where teachers can share resources, lesson plans, and ideas about how to make online learning the most effective for their students. All schools also received free Microsoft team accounts so teachers and students can communicate on a digital platform.
  4. Columbia: Colombia approached the COVID-19 school closures by developing two separate education plans based on internet access and resources. Students with internet access can use “Aprender Digital”, a website with learning tools for students, teachers and the general community. It features games and video games to keep students excited and engaged in the material. It also encourages language acquisition through its National Bilingualism Program. For students unable to use online resources, Columbia developed at-home kits to continue learning. The kits are also very interactive learning devices, equipped with games, art projects and even family activities.
  5. Kenya: Kenya established four major platforms for distance learning. The first two options are radio and television broadcasting. Their third option incorporates a new digital learning platform: Youtube. They created a Youtube channel called EduTv Kenya which live streams lessons. The last platform is the Kenya Education Cloud which stores electronic copies of textbooks so students can access them for free. However, Internet access is not guaranteed throughout the country. To make sure that students everywhere could use the internet, Kenya partnered with Google to allow Loon Balloons to fly over rural areas. Loon Balloons create internet connectivity with 4G-LTE capabilities. One balloon provides internet access to a population within a 40 km radius. Using a balloon-provided network, students can continue distance learning despite the pandemic.

COVID-19 pushed education into an unprecedented space. These countries, all with significant portions of their populations below the poverty line, utilize the resources available to them to continue to progress the education of their youth. Edtech is here to stay so that populations can stay safe from COVID-19. By prioritizing distance learning, these countries are displaying their attention to both education and safety.

– Abigail Gray
Photo: Flickr

corruption worldwideThere has been no shortage of Americans raising awareness about the domestic hardships of disadvantaged communities at the hands of an imperfect system. At the very least, Americans are still able to protest systems and spread their message to a broad audience across social media. What is less known, however, is how many people experience similarly dehumanizing conditions globally but lack the tools to change their environment or even tell others about their struggles. American protests for equality have been and always will be important, but it is a humanitarian necessity to address social injustices and corruption worldwide, not just where it is convenient for people to do so.

What is Corruption?

Before addressing the logistics of foreign poverty, it is necessary to define what that word “corruption” means in this context. The Corruption Perception Index (CPI) will be the standard definition of what corruption is, as it has been a common definition since 1995. The CPI ranks countries in terms of how much they embody “the abuse of entrusted power for private gain.”

Where to Find It

Even with the guidelines provided by the CPI, there is still room for interpretation, and as such there are many different survey results from individual sources (two, for example, come from the World Population Report and U.S. News and World Report). However, that is not to say there are not general trends throughout each of the results. Several lists that were used as sources cited at least half of the top 10 most corrupt countries as coming from South America, Africa or the Middle East.

The ways in which corruption has reared its head have mostly been economical. For instance, bribery is so prevalent in Afghanistan that 38% of the population sees it as normal. Somalia has a similar perception and prevalence of corruption. Ever since the Siad Barre regime was overthrown in 1991, there has been no strong government in control of the entire country. Instead, pirates, militias and clans fight over individual territories, preventing any chance of united progress without foreign intervention.

How Does This Relate to Poverty?

Anyone can understand in a broad sense how corruption is related to poverty, since one would assume that any country riddled with poverty would have to be the result of a misuse of power. For any changes to occur, however, people need to understand clearly what exactly is going on. In 2010, a sample of 97 developing countries was examined by the University of Putra Malaysia in a study that attempted to find the casual relationship between corruption and poverty.

In short, the study’s original data and other literature it cited concluded that “countries with high income inequality have high levels of corruption… After countries attain a specific level of income equality, corruption exponentially decreases.” This is no surprise considering how authorities in Sudan, Afghanistan and other nations have bribed and hoarded billions of dollars that should have helped citizens out of poverty.

Solutions

The study found three main ways to create a culture change in the corruption of developing nations.

  1. Promoting Inclusiveness: Citizens need to have a voice in their government through establishing democratic policies.
  2. Promoting Lawfulness: There must be laws and punishments by police for the disproportionate mistreatment of the disadvantaged.
  3. Promoting Accountability: Governments need to be made aware of the relationship between poverty and corruption and how officials may be implicit or responsible for these hardships.

These ideas may seem like common sense, but in a country that is not taking action, they need to be restated, just as they have been for America’s own domestic issues. All it takes to begin the fight against global corruption is simple civil engagement, such as an email to a senator.

– Bryce Thompson
Photo: Flickr

Mental Health in AfghanistanDecades of violent civil war and political unrest have debilitated Afghanistan’s healthcare system and led to the populations’ exceedingly high rates of mental illness. In 2004, Afganistan’s Ministry of Public Health (MOPH) declared mental health in Afghanistan a top priority. Today, the National Strategy for Mental Health (NSMH) is taking a multifaceted approach to improving the mental health of Afgan citizens.

The National Strategy for Mental Health aims to provide a “community-based, comprehensive” system with “access to treatment and follow up of mental illness and related conditions.” One of the primary goals of this system is to integrate mental health services into Afghanistan’s Basic Package of Healthcare Services (BPHS). Within the first 10 years of mental health integration into the BPHS, 70% of patients utilizing mental health services reported “significant improvement.” Other developing countries may wish to follow Afghanistan’s lead and to begin implementing their own mental health initiatives.

Women in Taliban-controlled Areas

Mental health surveys of Afgan women in Taliban-controlled areas exemplify the link between stress and mental illness. Women living in these areas report experiencing gender segregation and violent treatment. This includes restricted employment and education as well as domestic abuse and lack of health resources.

A survey of 160 Afghan women during the 1996-2001 Taliban regime showed many Afgan women suffer from mental illness. The survey results displayed that out of the 160 women,

  • 42% had PTSD symptoms

  • 97% had major depression

  • 86% had severe anxiety

Additionally, Afgan women living in Taliban-controlled areas suffered from depression at almost three times the rate of women living in non-Taliban-controlled areas (78 % versus 28 %).

Integration of Mental Health Services

In many countries, mental health support falls under general health funding, which results in very little direct funds for necessary mental health resources. However, as a result of successful integration by the Afghan government and restructuring of its healthcare system, resources for mental health in Afghanistan are available within the national healthcare infrastructure. The critical decision to absorb mental health in Afghanistan into general health has allowed mental health training to become a priority among all general physicians in addition to specialists.

The National Institute of Mental Health reports that people suffering from mental illness can potentially die anywhere from 13 to 30 years before their counterparts with no mental health problems. The integration of mental illness into general health equips primary physicians with the resources and training to diagnose and treat conditions. Transferring training and resources to primary health caregivers makes mental health services more accessible to the general public.

Afghanistan’s NSMH recognized that medication alone cannot fix mental health problems in Afghanistan. Medication treats the symptoms of trauma, not the source. This can lead to social isolation. This research led the NSMH to switch from a strictly medical treatment plan to a biopsychosocial treatment plan. This provides patients with counseling services, including stress management and domestic violence training for community health workers and teachers.

Impact of Mental Health Services

Before 2004, there were no psychiatrists working for the government. Furthermore, mental health receives less than 1% of physician training. After the integration of mental health services into the BPHS, each district hospital in Afghanistan has a full-time mental health physician who has received a two-month training in psychiatric care.

In regions that previously had no access to mental health services, there are now health facilities with health workers trained in identifying mental health disorders and creating treatment plans. These facilities can provide services for up to 60,000 people. Between 2002 and 2012, when mental health service programs were implemented, more than 900 community health workers and hundreds of doctors, nurses and midwives received training in mental health services.

Furthermore, in 2001, only 10% of the Afghan population lived within a one hour walk from a health facility. The BPHS increased the presence and accessibility of health facilities serving mental health in Afghanistan. Afterward, the overall patient visits to health facilities grew from two million to more than 44 million per year, which shows that the facilities were utilized frequently. In 2004, 22% of the health facilities served a minimum of 750 new patients per month. In 2008, 85% did.

Economic Incentive

Especially in developing countries, prioritizing mental health creates a more sustainable economy. According to the World Health Organization, depression and anxiety account for $1 trillion per year of lost or diminished output in the global economy. Additionally, when workplaces do not provide mental health resources, they lose the equivalent of 45 years of work per year. Mental health consequences on the economy and a population’s health are even greater in low-income countries due to the increased prevalence of stigmatization, superstition and treatment inaccessibility.

In addition to ethical incentives, governments have economic incentives to provide mental health services and resources because there is an economic advantage to having a healthy workforce. A failure to recognize and support populations suffering from mental health problems leads to a loss in economic productivity. Globally, every $1 that is invested in mental health disorder treatment translates to $4 in productivity and well-being.

Global Investment

Afghanistan’s next goal is to increase access to the BPHS for the remaining quarter of the population who still struggle to acquire health care. The growth of the BPHS and the Afghan government’s promise to expand its services to reach every citizen requires some economic input from international donors; however, the BPHS does not intend to rely on international donors forever. The World Bank, European Union and United States Agency for International Development (USAID) have been the largest donors to Afghanistan’s BPHS since the creation of the BPHS. However, each has diminished their contributions over the years.

Between 2003 and 2009, each of their individual financial contributions funded about one-third of the BPHS resources for mental health in Afghanistan. These contributions also supported technical and infrastructural support by funding construction and renovation of health facilities as well as road work projects to increase accessibility for rural populations. Between 2010 and 2012, USAID cut its contributions from $4.5 billion to $1.8 billion. Until the MOPH finds permanent funding for mental health in Afghanistan, the funding will come from donors, taxation, public spending and out of pocket pay for patients.

To fully universalize accessible and affordable mental health resources, the world, and particularly global leaders such as the United States, must continue to invest in mental health and commit to fighting poverty worldwide. Reducing global poverty reduces civil unrest, which decreases the rate of mental health problems. The World Bank, European Union and United States Agency for International Development (USAID) are the largest donors to Afghanistan’s BPHS. Continuing global support for mental health strategies helps not only poverty-stricken countries address mental health needs, but supports the global economy by increasing each populations’ well-being and productivity.

Nye Day
Photo: Flickr