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Poverty and Mental Health in Afghanistan
Forty years of turmoil and armed conflict fuels poverty’s role on mental health in Afghanistan. Poverty and increased violence exacerbate Afghanistan’s poor mental health. It is a cycle that has been going on since the Cold War’s end, creating an environment that forces people into poverty rather than them receiving the assistance they require.

Aside from the cold facts that Afghanistan imports the majority of its electricity and that the majority of the country still lacks access to it, Afghanistan also suffers from severe famine, drought and a lack of basic sanitary needs. Combined with years of civil war, terrorism uprisings and military coups, the high number of poverty and mental health issues does not seem so surprising.

Mental Health Suffers in Afghanistan

Although little data on mental health in Afghanistan has undergone compilation, Afghanistan has had an increased number of mental health conditions and poverty among its population over the years, primarily since 2001. Currently, the poverty rate in Afghanistan sits at 72% but projections have determined that it could rise to 97% due to the Taliban’s takeover. In addition, the expectation is that poor mental health in Afghanistan will worsen as a result of current violent regime changes in a country with a history of violence, uncertainty and civil war.

The World Bank reported in 2011 that, “Conflict and other factors such as unemployment, general poverty, breakdown of community support services, and inadequate access to health services have not only damaged the social infrastructure of the nation, but also caused mental health disorders mostly in vulnerable groups like women and disabled people.”

Support is Necessary and Overdue

Since then, the number of conflicts, impoverished and mentally impaired people in Afghanistan has increased. The International Psychosocial Organisation (IPSO) has provided the most recent data on mental health in Afghanistan out there in an annual report from 2019 which covers the drastic gap in mental health needs and facilities. The report states that 70% need mental health support.

Another report, from the Refugee Documentation Center in Ireland, found that in 2019, more than 50% of the population suffers from anxiety, depression or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) while only 10% could actually seek help. Although many of these cases are due to exposure to violent conflict over the last four decades, many organizations also suggest a strong link between extreme poverty conditions and mental health. About 40% of Afghanistan’s people, who suffer from PTSD, relate their experience back to a lack of food and running water.

The National Mental Health Symposium, which the Ministry of Public Health of the Government of Afghanistan held in 2019 explains how poverty, conflict and unstable living conditions contribute to the rise in poor mental health in Afghanistan.

The Taliban’s Effect

As the Taliban transforms the government of Afghanistan to how they see fit, mental health facilities and doctors are at risk of shutdown due to the Taliban’s negative views of Western practices. Both the World Bank and the IPSO report that religious and cultural traditions create barriers to treating mental health in Afghanistan.

TABISH in Afghanistan, a nonprofit humanitarian organization that provides mental health support, education and human rights support suspended its operations just one week after the Taliban took over the government. “There is no international support because we cannot have staff in our organization. Not just for us but many organizations [and] there is no guarantee for our staff if we find support,” Dr. Aria, the founder of TABISH, said in a phone call with The Borgen Project. “There is a high demand for mental health right now, people are traumatized.”

Aria also noted that the majority of the staff at TABISH in Afghanistan were women, and the sudden change in women’s rights, aside from the loss of income, are causing even greater mental health strains now. “Going from conflict to conflict, poverty, discrimination against women, high unemployment and many more things are causing a high demand for mental health services in Afghanistan,” Dr. Aria said. In the preceding weeks, Dr. Aria left Afghanistan with his family due to safety reasons. They are staying in the United States at the moment.

Help is More Possible Now More than Ever

Mental health support has become more readily available in Afghanistan over the last decade. World organizations, such as the World Bank, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations, are making it a top priority to help stabilize the health systems in the country.

Through continued international support—not just from organizations but individual countries as well—the conflict-torn country’s mental health community can gain the facilities, power and attention needed to begin the end-cycle of poverty and poor mental health in Afghanistan.

– Ali Benzerara
Photo: Flickr

Vocational education centers in Afghanistan
After spending nearly 20 years in Afghanistan, the U.S. is withdrawing from the conflict with Taliban insurgents by August 31, 2021. The U.S. withdrawal is leaving the Afghan people and government susceptible to a Taliban takeover or all-out civil war, which could lead to the souring of Afghan-American relations. Perhaps U.S. support of new and improved vocational education centers in Afghanistan could help provide Afghans with the skills to repair the infrastructure that war has ravaged and maintain positive relations between the two nations.

History of Afghan Vocational Training

Afghanistan established its first institutions for technical and vocational training in the 1950s, with the help of countries such as the U.S., USSR, Germany and the United Kingdom. The Afghan education system integrated technical education with the creation of the Faculty of Agriculture and Engineering in 1956 and Kabul Polytechnic in 1968. However, following the Soviet invasion and the rule of the Communist Regime in 1979, many male students were unable to pursue technical education. These students either entered the military, fought with Mujahideen freedom fighters or fled the country. Additionally, many intellectuals who others associated with vocational education centers, opposed the Soviets and either went to prison, died from violence or had to flee.

The Soviet invasion severely hampered Afghan economic development and destroyed much of Afghanistan’s infrastructure, including many technical education centers. However, Afghanistan did not rebuild the infrastructure that experienced destruction in the civil war after the Soviet Union left and since the U.S. entered Afghanistan in 2001. Additionally, much of Afghanistan’s basic infrastructure, including clean water, proper sanitation and electricity, has experienced damage from the country’s previous conflicts. More vocational education centers in Afghanistan may increase access to trained individuals who could remedy these infrastructure issues.

Benefits of Vocational Education Centers

As of 2020, the World Bank reported that Afghanistan has an unemployment rate of 11.7%. According to UNICEF, 3.7 million Afghan children do not attend school. The formation of additional vocational education centers in Afghanistan could create more employment and educational opportunities for the Afghan people. Additionally, it could potentially provide the centers’ graduates with the capability to repair the infrastructure of a country that war has ravaged. Providing Afghan citizens with more vocational education centers would aid in the alleviation of poverty throughout the developing country. As UNESCO stated in a report concerning the development of Afghanistan’s Vocational Education programs, “education is one of the keys to sustainable development, peace and stability.”

U.S. institutions and Afghan vocational education centers have worked together successfully in the past. Prior to the Soviet invasion, Afghanistan had a rapidly developing set of vocational education centers. The Faculty of Engineering at Kabul University received almost all of its training in the U.S. and used U.S. textbooks for their classes. From the school’s formation in 1956 until 1978, the school had a significant affiliation with U.S. institutions through USAID support. As of 1977, the admission rate of the Faculty of Engineering at Kabul University grew from 300 to 1,000 per annum.

Additional vocational education centers in Afghanistan prior to the Soviet invasion included:

  • Kabul Polytechnic Institute
  • Kabul Mechanical School
  • Afghan Institute of Technology
  • Kandahar Mechanical School
  • Khost Mechanical School
  • Mazar-i-Sharifi Technicum
  • Kabul Technicum

The Soviets methodically dismembered these vocational education centers following the 1979 invasion. Soon, the communist ideology took precedence over all aspects of education. This lasted until the collapse of the communist government and the subsequent civil war in 1992. After that, all technical colleges and schools in Afghanistan underwent severe damage.

How USAID Assists With Development

The U.S. has been helping with the development of Afghanistan’s vocational education centers more recently as well through the Afghanistan Workforce Development Program (AWDP). USAID conceived the program in 2012 and sought to expand employment and wages in Afghanistan. It did this by increasing the employability of Afghan citizens in areas where skilled labor was necessary. This task reached completion through a four-step process. Firstly, a “labor market demand assessment” occurred to identify the skills in demand by the Afghan private sector. Following this assessment, USAID guided the curricula of the Afghan training providers to meet the demand of the private sector. After establishing the curriculum, USAID provided subsidies to help local training centers educate trainees in lacking areas. Finally, USAID provided pre-employment, job placement and follow-up services to ensure that those who completed training programs found work.

Positive Results

The AWDP was effective in many ways. As of 2018, 48,873 Afghans, 36% of them women, received training in competency-based technical and business management skills. Additionally, 28,790 participants of the program obtained assistance in finding work as a result of the AWDP. To ensure progress following the program’s completion, USAID also allowed private institutes to open career counseling centers. These five institutes trained 1,758 university graduates and landed 807 trainees jobs as of 2019. Furthermore, the program provided Master Training of Trainers (MToT) training to 1,401 master trainers attending institutes of higher learning. About 1,060 of those trainees earned jobs relevant to their expertise or received a promotion at their current jobs.

Since the U.S. military is withdrawing from Afghanistan in 2021, it may be beneficial for the U.S. government to support vocational education centers in Afghanistan further. Continuing to provide resources and increase funding may help maintain positive relations between the U.S. and Afghanistan. Furthermore, new or improved vocational education centers in Afghanistan would increase employment opportunities and empower more Afghans with the ability to repair infrastructure and further develop the state.

– Wais Wood
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

E-Commerce Connecting Afghan Women Entrepreneurs to the Global MarketIn 2020, 47.3% of Afghanistan’s population lived below the national poverty line. Poverty in the country increased sharply over the last decade due to a stalled economy and the rise of Taliban insurgency. It left almost 90% of Afghans struggling to live and unable to support their families with their current income. This combined effect of stagnating economic growth and deteriorating security resulted in poverty hitting record-breaking heights. The high poverty rate is especially dire for Afghan women. However, e-commerce is providing Afghan women entrepreneurs the opportunity to join the global market and push their communities out of poverty.

History of Female Entrepreneurs in Afghanistan

Women suffered deeply during Afghanistan’s almost 40-year war. They ferociously and tirelessly fought for gender equality. During the Taliban regime from 1906 to 2001, women were denied access to basic rights such as education, employment, freedom of movement and healthcare. Essentially, women were either invisible in public life or subjected to continuous violence. After 2001, female activists achieved significant legislative progress. However, the patriarchal structures, religious fundamentalism, the Taliban’s remaining rhetoric and the all-prevailing insecurity of the nation still shape the country and hinder the progress toward equality.

The Successes of Online Commerce

Despite poverty, corruption and political instability, Afghan women all over the country found a way to break away from their conservative society through digital advancements. One of the ways women entered into the world of business was through the Afghan e-commerce site Click.af. Founded in 2016 by Masiullah Stanikzai, Click.af provides Afghans access to a domestic online market. The site started shipping globally last year. The main reason behind the expansion was to connect local designers and artisans to a larger base of consumers around the world. It also promoted Afghan-made products. When sellers register on Click.af, they can find technology, tools and infrastructure to help them grow and succeed. The elements include customer management, marketing and sales tools to manage consumers while showing their presence online and boost sales.

Real Stories of Female-run Businesses

Click.af inspires young women to be entrepreneurs. Currently, the e-commerce platform has enabled 45 Afghan women entrepreneurs to launch their own small businesses. One of these women is 25-year-old Maryam Yousufi, who launched the fashion line called Machum. Yousufi’s brand focuses on designing clothes that fuse Western style with traditional Afghan designs. Yousufi’s dream was to see her products reach global markets. She believes online platforms can give others a chance to try entrepreneurship and overcome conservative attitudes toward women. Through Click.af she was able to receive a credit to start a business.

Women entrepreneurs, especially those in the sector of social entrepreneurship, often disrupt patterns of gender inequality. They reshape dominant expectations, norms and stigmas. According to the World Economic Forum, Yousufi couldn’t even dare to believe that one day she would be able to sew clothes. Yousufi is now designing and selling clothes. According to Yousufi, the opportunity she found through e-commerce allowed her to make decisions in a country where others usually made decisions for her. Click.af is about selling and connecting, but it also shows Afghan women entrepreneurs that they have the right to choose a path for themselves.

Advances for Women Entrepreneurs

E-commerce is a powerful tool that is capable of bringing great benefits to female entrepreneurs. It challenges the old barriers of geographic isolation and restricted access to information and financing. Thanks to the expansion of e-commerce, people in Afghanistan today can shop with full information. They now have the knowledge of the pros and cons of the products instead of relying on word-to-mouth. E-commerce platforms, including Click.af, have also made it possible for shops to open 24/7. This resulted in a meaningful increase in sales for local sellers. More importantly, e-commerce is a necessity in Afghanistan since COVID-19 reached the country and mobility was consequently limited. During the lockdown, while most physical stores and public companies closed, online retailers were able to operate without violating social distance regulations.

Looking Forward

Although e-commerce ventures in Afghanistan still struggle to flourish due to issues such as security issues, capital investments and online payments, there is no doubt that online shopping will exponentially increase its presence in the next few years. Platforms similar to Click.af provide an important opportunity for Afghanistan’s war-torn economy, and more specifically, it demonstrates how empowering female social entrepreneurs is key for the country’s economic recovery. Click.af has been able to reframe the definition of success in a more inclusive manner, which includes and celebrates Afghan women who, against all odds, are taking a chance and jumping into entrepreneurship.

– Alejandra del Carmen Jimeno

Photo: Flickr 

Social Change for AfghanistanWar-torn and poverty-stricken, people of the developed world seldom think of Afghanistan as a place where beauty and art bloom. But, in the streets of Kabul, Afghanistan, a movement is growing. Contemporary street artists in Kabul use the ruins of blasted city walls and bombed-out buildings as their canvas, slowly transforming the city from the shell of a warzone to an open-air art gallery. However, the goal of this gallery is not simply beautifying the city’s rubble-strewn streets but actually inciting social change for Afghanistan.

Conflict in Afghanistan

Afghanistan has remained in a state of almost constant conflict since 1978. The internal conflict became global news as other countries, most notably Russia and the United States, involved themselves by supporting various parties and factions. Social scientists predict that thousands of Afghani civilians died as a result of civil unrest thus far.

Since the Taliban, a violent extremist group, was forced out of their occupation of Kabul, many families who fled to seek asylum in other countries are returning. Unfortunately, just re-established as a republic, the capital city did not have the infrastructure to support the influx of impoverished and uneducated ex-refugees. The refugees who fled from Afghanistan under Taliban rule experienced widespread discrimination and restricted access to education and fair wages. Now one of the fastest-growing cities in the world, Kabul is home to almost six million civilians and crime and poverty are rampant.

Social Change Through Art

Decades of war destroyed much of the literature and art in Afghanistan, once a culture-rich place. But, in this tragedy lies an opportunity to bring the historically male and upper-class art world into a more inclusive space.

Street artist groups are popping up in Kabul, using colorful murals to send political messages about social change for Afghanistan. One such group calls itself the ArtLords. The organization consists of volunteers and artists seeking a future for their battered homeland. The ArtLords believe that while there are many things it cannot control, it can begin to alter the country’s narrative and express the people’s desire for peace. By visually bringing social issues such as women’s empowerment, terrorism and corruption to a public space where people cannot ignore them, artists hope to change the future of Afghanistan.

Young people who grew up watching the horrors of war right outside their doorsteps make almost all of Kabul’s street art. After seeing the effects of extreme poverty, constant war and restricted rights, it is not surprising that many seek an outlet for their voices.

These artists risk arrest and even murder to spread their messages of hope and activism to the people of the city. Through art, both men and women are able to speak out against the violence and tyranny Afghans endure. Street art in particular allows messages to reach a massive and diverse audience, ensuring that people from all corners of society are able to see and enjoy, be inspired or be incensed.

Female Artist Shamsia Hassani

Probably the most famous name in Afghanistan’s art world right now is Shamsia Hassani. The first female street artist known in the country, she is making history with her art. Growing up in Iran to Afghan immigrants, Hassani was labeled a “foreign national” in school and experienced many roadblocks to her education due to a preponderance of discriminatory laws against Afghan refugees. In 2015, her family decided the situation in Afghanistan was stable enough to return home. Never having been there, Hassani was hesitant about the change, but once they had settled in Kabul, Hassani felt she finally understood the meaning of home. No longer a foreign national, she was free to pursue a fine arts degree at Kabul University, where she now lectures. Although the city was still in ruins, Hassani declares “even if it was ruins, it was my ruins.”

Her street art style developed over a few years. She describes its accessibility to everyone draws her to the medium, although it puts her in danger every time she creates a piece. Hassani’s art does not fight against the wearing of hijabs or other forms of cover. Instead, she focuses on the need for women to have access to education and careers. She states that if women did not require hijabs but were still unable to go to school or get a paying job, it would not be true freedom or real progress.

Looking Forward

There is deep symbolism to Hassani’s signature art character, the woman with closed eyes. The character conveys sadness and pain, the desire to look away from the destruction of war and the struggle for women, in particular. But, the image also inspires joy through Hassani’s use of bright colors, the inclusion of musical instruments and the simple pleasure of seeing a crumbling wall transformed by a beautiful work of art.

Hassani is confident that art can bring about social change in Afghanistan. Like the ArtLords and many others who use art as a form of activism, Hassani is part of a generation who has never known peace. They spent their entire lives in wartime and can only dream of peace in Afghanistan. Until then, they will continue to illustrate a vision of a future in which there is peace, equality, justice and unity.

– Kari Millstein
Photo: Flickr

Foreign Aid efforts in AfghanistanAfghanistan’s evolution after two gruesome decades of immense adversity has caught the attention of countries all over the world. The South Asian nation has made breakthroughs in infrastructure, getting millions of girls in school and improving community development. Nonetheless, foreign aid efforts in Afghanistan are still crucial for the further development of the country.

Foreign Aid Skepticism and COVID-19

The world wants to see Afghanistan succeed, but despite willing donors, definitive complications hinder the level of aid that Afghanistan is severely reliant on. The imminent withdrawal of U.S. troops has caused violence from the Taliban to spike while pressures of long-awaited peace talks between the two powers unfold, making donors wary of sending money that could be wasted due to corruption based on past events.

On top of that, COVID-19 is running rampant and bruising economies all over the world, cutting aid efforts in half compared to previous years.

Afghanistan’s rooted systematic issues will continue to undermine any reconstruction and development efforts unless a clear and mindful plan is made that addresses the topical concerns affecting the nation and motions toward this kind of growth are beginning to come to fruition. There are several important facts to note about foreign aid efforts in Afghanistan.

Cuts to US Forces Links to Cuts Toward Aid

To end the United States’ longest war, the Pentagon announced that a cut to U.S. forces in Afghanistan from 4,500 to 2,500 will be underway by mid-January 2021. This decision has already sparked vigilance and tensions between the Afghanistan government and the Taliban, as there is a great concern that the Taliban will feel invited to expand its influence and interfere with hopes of peace and progress. United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, urges that Afghans are in “acute need” of humanitarian support, stating that nearly 300,000 Afghans have been displaced by conflict in 2020.

Deadly attacks on Afghan forces show the Taliban’s intentions during a time where peace talks are being strained after months of stagnance and it has made donors feel uneasy about whether the Taliban could abuse any funding meant for aid. Even amongst suspicions, foreign donors like Germany are still showing support, urging the international community “not to turn their backs on Afghanistan.”

Ensuring Prosperity is an International Effort

After 19 years of promised reforms and attempts to grow the economy after the U.S. ousted the Taliban in 2001, Afghanistan will still be reliant on international support for the foreseeable future. Ministers from about 70 countries and officials from humanitarian organizations have pledged a total of $12 billion to the war-torn country over the next four years, at Afghanistan’s international donor conference held on Nov. 23 and 24 of 2020.

Germany has pledged $510 million in civilian assistance, the United Kingdom pledged $227 million in civilian and food aid, Norway pledged $72 million in development assistance and humanitarian aid and the United States pledged $600 million in civilian aid but made half of it conditional on the progress of Taliban peace talks. The U.S. was not alone in donating with specific conditions. All donors stressed that aid would only come as long as Afghanistan shows that it is committed to the peace process and that all parties to the Afghan conflict must respect human rights.

COVID-19 Causes Donation Restraints

Afghanistan is one of many countries taking an economic plunge due to COVID-19. The poverty level jumped from 54% last year to 70% during the pandemic, with more than half the population living on $1.14 a day, despite the billions of dollars devoted to the country over the last two decades.

A global pandemic combined with fragile circumstances emphasizes the need for foreign aid in Afghanistan, but with the heavy burden of COVID-19, most international donors have made significant restrictions on how much they can give. At the last donor conference in 2016, countries pledged a total of $15.2 billion for the years 2017-2020 compared to the $12 billion for 2021-2024.

Past Corruption is Obstructing Development

The U.S. government’s independent oversight authority on Afghan reconstruction, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), reported on October 20, 2021, that $19 billion of the total $63 billion that the U.S. has spent on Afghanistan’s reconstruction since 2002 was lost to waste, fraud and abuse.

With corruption forming such a stain on Afghanistan’s reputation and leaving remnants of distrust amongst potential donors, it is apparent why obtaining the necessary aid for growth and development has been such a hindrance for the war-torn country. That is why it is vital to ensure that future investments being made toward reconstruction are not lost and exploited.

Prospects for Peace

The Afghan government and the Taliban have endured a three-month impasse regarding peace talks that were finally brought to a close on November 2, 2020. The Afghan government and the Taliban are now expected to implement an agenda on how they can be partners in developmental changes and advancing realistic and sustainable peace plans.

As the world carefully watches the peace talks unfold, there is hope for a new start. Afghanistan is ready to transform into what it has envisioned for decades, and with realistic compromises set in place, there is an assurance that donors and the international community will feel less wary about foreign aid efforts in Afghanistan.

– Alyssa McGrail
Photo: Flickr

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

The Taliban’s Unchecked Oppression of Women

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

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

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

US Occupation and Female Empowerment

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

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

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

Repercussions of the US-Taliban Peace Deal

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

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

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

Progress

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

Rosalind Coats
Photo: Pxfuel

Child soldiers in Afghanistan
Under the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC), using children under the age of 15 in combat is deemed a war crime because children can either end up dead or traumatized from their experience. Afghanistan is a party to the Rome Statute.

Furthermore, the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict was ratified by Afghanistan in 2003 and states that people under the age of 18 may not be recruited by armed groups under any circumstances. It established the need to take measures, such as prohibition and criminalization of this action, to prevent the use of child soldiers. A violation of this is considered a breach of international law.

 

Conflict Creates Instability

The United States invaded Afghanistan in 2001 in order to remove the Taliban from power. Although Kabul was reclaimed, the Taliban still controls some regions in Afghanistan and the war has continued. Additionally, the spread of the Islamic State’s presence in Afghanistan has aggravated the situation and increased the threat of terrorism. The decades of war and instability have created severe poverty and violence.

Child soldiers in Afghanistan are recruited on both sides of the conflict. Some Afghan children have even been recruited to fight in Syria. The Taliban has recruited child soldiers since the 1990s. Children participate in the war in many ways. They often are sent to combat, go on suicide missions, work in noncombat positions and serve as messengers or spies.

The Recruitment of Child Soldiers in Afghanistan

The Taliban has used Islamic religious schools to train children from a young age. They often begin studying religious subjects taught by Taliban teachers at age six and learn military skills around the age of 13. Usually, these kids are not taken by force. The Taliban schools are an attractive option for poor families since they provide food and clothing for the children.

Despite evidence of young boys participating in combat, the Taliban claims that to participate in military operations they have to prove “mental and physical maturity.” Although child soldiers in Afghanistan are mostly used by the Taliban, they are also used by the Afghan National Police as cooks and guards at checkpoints. Parents often do not oppose this since the boys could be the sole provider for their families.

Girls in the War

The number of girls considered to be child soldiers in Afghanistan is minimal. Danielle Bell, the head of the Human Rights Unit at the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, addressed this when she said, “In five years of monitoring and reporting, the U.N. has verified one case of child recruitment of a girl who was a trained suicide bomber.” Although they are not trained as soldiers, girls are often taken and forced into sex slavery for military groups.

The 2008 Child Soldiers Prevention Act prohibits the U.S. from giving military assistance to countries that use child soldiers. Jo Becker, the children’s rights advocacy director at Human Rights Watch, has criticized the U.S. for ignoring child soldiers in Afghanistan, saying, “The United States has paid hundreds of millions of dollars to support an Afghan militia that recruits and uses children to fight the Taliban.” Using children for military combat is both a violation of international law and a war crime and the United States government should take proper action against it.

– Luz Solano-Flórez
Photo: Flickr

Malala Visited Pakistan

The story of Malala Yousafzai’s survival is widely known around the globe. Recently, Malala visited Pakistan for the first time since 2012 when she was shot in the head by the Taliban.

Returning to Pakistan

In 2018, Malala returned to Pakistan and, under security protection, visited her home in the northwest town of Mingora. Back in 2012, Mingora was controlled by the Taliban under the rule of Mullah Fazlullah. At the age of 15, Malala was already vocal about female education, something that wasn’t supported under Taliban rule.

The Attack and Recovery

One day, Malala was traveling on a school bus with other students when it was stopped by men who were part of the Taliban. They boarded the bus, asking for Malala by name. When her friends turned to look at her, the trigger was pulled and she was shot in the head. 

Malala was rushed to the hospital, where her recovery was difficult. Within the first 72 hours of being shot, her brain swelled and she got an infection. She was transported to England to receive rehabilitative care at the Queen Elizabeth Medical Center, which specialized in emergency and rehabilitative care. Malala survived her attack after various surgeries but was left with some facial paralysis and deafness in her left ear.  

Continuing the Fight for Education

After recuperating, Malala continued her fight for the education of girls. She became the youngest Nobel laureate in 2014 when she received the Nobel Peace Prize for her “struggle against the suppression of children and young people and for the right of all children to education.” 

Malala has a foundation in her name, which is set up to support groups in Pakistan, Nigeria, Jordan, Syria and Kenya that support education. Apple has also partnered with Malala and the Malala Fund to help girls get an education.

According to 9 to 5 Mac, Apple will help the Malala Fund reach its goal of providing secondary education to more than 100,000 girls who would otherwise be unable to attend school.

Since the murder attempt in 2012, Malala has become the biggest advocate for girls education in Pakistan. She has become a beacon of hope. After Malala’s last visit to Pakistan, she hopes to return to live there after she finishes her studies in England.

– Valeria Flores

Photo: Flickr

Girls' Education in PakistanWith an estimated 22.6 million children (aged 5 to 16) out of school, Pakistan is facing an education crisis. This education concern is disproportionately affecting girls, who make up two-thirds of out-of-school children. With so many girls not able to achieve more than an elementary education in Pakistan, USAID has made it a priority to improve girls’ education in Pakistan.

The challenge of child education in Pakistan stems from a variety of human rights issues, from the Taliban preventing girls from going to school to the practice of child marriage. Although these threats continue to diminish, they are still affecting girls’ education in Pakistan.

Only 54 percent of girls are enrolled in primary school, and this number drops to just 30 percent for secondary school. From there, it is estimated that only one in 10 will complete their secondary schooling, being pulled out of school for financial reasons or to be forced into marriage. These practices are typically concentrated in rural areas, but affect girls throughout Pakistan.

With secondary education difficult to access for many girls because they are subject to arranged marriages or financial pressures, USAID has started a program to focus on girls’ access to secondary education. So far, USAID has created 33 schools covering sixth through eighth grade for girls between 11 and 19. These schools will be set up in rural villages where there are often no existing secondary schools for girls.

USAID is also working to improve other dimensions of Pakistan’s education crisis. USAID has done so by building and repairing more than 1,135 schools since 2011, and by educating more than 660,000 primary-level students through its reading program. USAID has also committed over $70 million to implement its Empower Adolescent Girls strategy in order to help educate more than 200,000 young girls in Pakistan.

In addition to improving students’ access to education, USAID is investing in teachers by repairing and building the 17 Faculty of Education centers in Pakistan as well as by providing more than 3,100 scholarships for aspiring teachers to earn their education. USAID has also trained more than 25,000 teachers and school administrators since 2014.

When a child is educated, their livelihoods improve and they are given the tools necessary to be lifted from poverty. While there are still far too many children out-of-school in Pakistan, USAID is working tirelessly in order to give every child access to a complete education.

Kelly Hayes

Photo: Flickr

 

Learn about the Protecting Girls’ Access to Education in Vulnerable Settings Act

 

10 Facts About the Afghanistan War
Following the September 11 attacks on New York and Washington D.C., President George W. Bush vowed to “win the war against terrorism.” This included the launch of a U.S.-led operative in Afghanistan, with the goal of toppling the terrorist groups Al-Qaeda and the Taliban. Today, going into its 16th year, the war is the longest conflict the U.S. has ever been involved in and continues to inhibit the lives of thousands of civilians. Here are 10 facts about the ongoing Afghanistan War.

  1. The current volatile situation in Afghanistan is the latest in a long history of conflicts. The U.S. invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 came after over 20 years of war in the country. A Soviet Invasion in 1979 prompted opposition from several militant groups, called the Mujahideen. The U.S., Pakistan, China, Iran and Saudi Arabia all provided funding and arms to the Soviet opposition. These contributions stemmed from a desire to resist the Soviet spread of communism but ended up contributing to budding extremism and violence in militant groups.
  2. By 1985, half of the Afghan population was already displaced due to war and conflict with the Soviets. By 1989, the last of the Soviet troops left Afghanistan after peace accords were reached between the USSR, Pakistan, the U.S. and Afghanistan. However, the existing government quickly toppled and the country dissolved into a brutal civil war, resulting in the Taliban seizing Kabul and quickly enforcing their influence across the country.
  3. President George W. Bush signed a joint resolution into law on September 18, 2001, authorizing the use of force against those responsible for the September 11 attacks. The resolution was later cited as justification by the Bush administration for decisions such as the invasion of Afghanistan, eavesdropping on American citizens with the absence of a court order, and the operation of a detention camp at Guantanamo Bay.
  4. The movement in Afghanistan began covertly by the CIA on September 26, 2001. Just 15 days after the attacks in the U.S., the CIA backed Northern Alliance Liaison Team – codenamed JAWBREAKER – and was on the ground and operating in Afghanistan, thus officially beginning the Afghanistan War.
  5. The British invaded Afghanistan alongside the U.S. In October of 2001, the U.S. and British militaries began a bombing campaign against the forces of the Taliban. Other countries, like Canada, France, Australia and Germany pledged future support at the time the bombing began.
  6. On November 14, 2001, after the fall of the Taliban in Kabul, the UN Security council passed Resolution 1378, which called for the participation of the United Nations in forming a transitional administration and facilitating the growth and spread of stability. In December, several leaders from major factions in Afghanistan traveled to a U.N. conference in Bonn, Germany. The factions signed and an interim government was decided upon.
  7. Since the beginning of the conflict, more than four dozen countries have contributed troops to the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan.
  8. In April 2002, President Bush promised: “By helping to build an Afghanistan that is free from evil and is a better place to live, we are working in the best traditions of George Marshall.” The statement was meant to invoke reconstructions similar to that of post-World War II. Soon afterward, the U.S. Congress appropriated over $38 billion in reconstruction assistance to Afghanistan from 2001 to 2009.
  9. In 2011, President Barack Obama pledged the gradual exit of American troops from Afghanistan. Unfortunately, due to continuously escalated situations with the Taliban, 8,400 U.S. troops will remain in Afghanistan through 2017. “We have to deal with the realities of the world,” says President Obama.
  10. As of 2015, the U.S. committed over $685 billion to funding the war in Afghanistan. Along with the Iraq War, the Afghanistan War has been the most expensive in U.S. history.

Stability in Afghanistan has made significant strides in the past several decades. The country’s GDP grew an average of 9.4% per year from 2003 to 2012. Life expectancy in the country has increased by nearly 20 years in the past decade. In 2002, less than a million children were enrolled in school, while now the number surpasses eight million. When the U.S. first invaded the country, only six percent of citizens had access to reliable electricity, while the number now reaches more than 28 percent.

Despite the country’s advances, basic amenities such as infrastructure and access to healthcare and education are still severely lacking. The length of the Afghanistan War and U.S. airstrikes, drone presence and ground troops have devastated the country’s ability to develop independently, and the Taliban continues to terrorize much of the country, causing thousands of Afghan refugees to continue to flee persecution.

Peyton Jacobsen

Photo: Flickr