Combating Poverty Amidst Political Transition in AfghanistanFrom the beginning of the war in 2001 to the recent political transition beginning in 2021, Afghanistan has seen significant economic fluctuations and an upward trend in the national poverty rate, despite periods of economic growth. For instance, the World Bank estimated that at least a third of the Afghan population was living in poverty and unable to afford basic necessities between 2007 and 2012. Yet, the country’s GDP steadily grew at a rate of 6.9% annually during those years. A rising Gini coefficient of almost 2% from 2007 to 2012 indicates that inequality has contributed to the country’s sustained high poverty rate, which has continued to grow amidst the recent political transition in Afghanistan.

According to the Asian Development Bank (ADB), an alarming 49.4% of Afghan citizens were already living below the national poverty line in 2020. With the political transition sparking a 20.7% contraction in the country’s GDP in 2021, the World Bank has reported that more than 65% of households in Afghanistan “could not afford food and other basic non-food items” by the middle of 2022. Fortunately, the international community remains committed to aiding the millions in need amidst the ongoing political transition in Afghanistan. 

The Past and Present of Poverty in Afghanistan

Historically, poverty has most heavily impacted rural areas in Afghanistan. According to the 2015 Afghanistan Poverty Status Update, some 80% of the country’s impoverished resided in rural communities as of 2011-2012, with more than 50% of poor Afghans being concentrated in the remote regions of East, Northeast and Central Afghanistan. These regions have been particularly vulnerable to political, economic and climactic shocks and have assumed an inordinate share of the burden that poverty poses to the country as a whole.      

For example, the 2015 report, prepared by the World Bank and Islamic Republic of Afghanistan Ministry of Economy, noted that poor households were both more susceptible to and less able to recover from financial shocks, which affected 84% of Afghan households in 2011-2012. Furthermore, 75.6% of impoverished Afghans age 15 and older were illiterate, while 41% of those already living in poverty were underemployed and more than 84% were engaged in vulnerable forms of employment, such as agriculture. In addition to lacking access to education and employment opportunities, the country’s predominantly rural poor also lack equal access to basic services: in 2011-12, only 63.8% had electricity, 40.3% had potable water and 2.8% had basic sanitation, percentages significantly lower than among Afghanistan’s non-poor population. 

Since the United States’ withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2021, the country has seen a surge in poverty. The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) estimated that Afghanistan’s real GDP could contract by more than 13%, putting 97% of Afghanistan’s 41 million citizens at risk of falling into poverty. However, despite increasing poverty amidst the political transition in Afghanistan, past efforts have shown that humanitarian aid can make a difference.

Humanitarian Support for Afghan Citizens

For example, as a result of international aid, access to electricity, potable water and sanitation each improved by 14% annually between 2007 and 2012, and youth literacy increased by 8%. Since its withdrawal, the U.S. and other nations have therefore focused their efforts on providing humanitarian aid to Afghan citizens who are suffering amid the political transition.

One such initiative is the Local Area-Based Programme, which the UNDP introduced in 2021. In collaboration with local businesses and NGOs, the 24-month program aims to aid at least nine million Afghan citizens in need by supporting infrastructure development, income opportunities and essential services. It targets the country’s most vulnerable communities, including women, children and the elderly, and centers on cash transfers, grants and other interventions that will help guarantee vital income, promote women-led businesses and boost local economies.

As of July 2022, the U.S. had provided $775 million in aid overall to support Afghan citizens during the transition, with the specific aims of combating food insecurity, improving agricultural industries, strengthening education and advancing women’s and minority rights. Since 2001, the U.S. has provided more humanitarian aid to Afghanistan than any other country, including $36.07 billion in development aid. In an effort to uphold stability and protect Afghan citizens without supporting the Taliban, the U.S. and other countries are also collaborating to ensure financial liquidity and retain Afghan banks’ connections to the international community.

Looking Ahead

Amid Afghanistan’s recent political transition and economic challenges, the international community continues to show support by providing humanitarian aid to millions in need. Initiatives like the Local Area-Based Programme aim to aid vulnerable communities, including women, children and the elderly, with infrastructure development and income opportunities. The U.S. and other countries have contributed significant financial aid to combat food insecurity, improve education and advance women’s and minority rights, all with the goal of supporting Afghan citizens during this critical period.

– Sahib Singh
Photo: Unsplash

Gender Wage Gap in LebanonLebanon borders Syria to the north and east, the region of Palestine to the south and the Mediterranean Sea to the west. A Middle Eastern nation with a varied landscape ranging from picturesque coastlines to the majestic Lebanese Mountains, the country has earned recognition for its rich history and cultural heritage. However, Lebanon faces several socioeconomic challenges, including a persistent gender wage gap. Here are five key insights into the gender wage gap in Lebanon and the growing efforts to close it.

The Problem

  1. Significant Wage Disparity: According to a recent study published by the University of Sciences and Arts in Lebanon (USAL), Lebanese women earn an average of 16%-19% less than Lebanese men. And while it has made progress in women’s rights, Lebanon retains one of the highest overall gender gaps globally, placing 119 out of 146 countries in the 2022 World Economic Forum Gender Gap Report.
  2. Education Does Not Mean Equal Pay: Despite improvements in women’s education in Lebanon, data reveals that the gender wage gap widens with education. For instance, the wage gap between Lebanese women and men with university-level or higher degrees is 20.2%, according to the United Nations Development Program’s (UNDP) 2021 Lebanon Gender Analysis report. Additionally, despite having nearly equal access to education, just 23.5% of Lebanese women were employed as of 2021, compared to 70.9% of men.
  3. Occupational Segregation: Employers’ perceptions and decisions regarding hiring and promotions are influenced by deeply-ingrained gender stereotypes and traditional roles that persist in Lebanese society. For example, according to the UN’s 2022 Women’s Economic Participation in Lebanon analysis, men dominate higher-paying sectors like engineering and technology, while women find themselves disproportionately clustered in lower-paying industries like education and administration. Such occupational segregation contributes to the widening gender wage gap in Lebanon, limiting women’s earning potential and opportunities for career advancement. 
  4. Limited Leadership Representation: Similarly, women face difficulty obtaining managerial and leadership positions, which frequently offer higher salaries. The underrepresentation of women in decision-making positions across the public, private, political and academic sectors greatly contributes to wage disparity. 
  5. Unpaid Care Work: A 2018 World Bank report revealed that Lebanese women disproportionately bear the burden of unpaid care work and household duties. Consequently, many women sacrifice paid employment, reduce their working hours and endure frequent career interruptions, all of which negatively impact women’s earning potential and Lebanon’s economy as a whole. For example, the report estimated that a 25% reduction in the Gender Participation gap would spark a 9% increase in the country’s GDP. 

Ongoing Efforts

Here are five ways that Lebanon and the international community are working to achieve progress in reducing the gender wage gap in the country.   

  1. Government Interventions: In 2018, the Lebanese government launched a public awareness campaign to promote gender equality and reduce gender-biased social norms. The campaign aimed to change attitudes, increase women’s awareness of equal-pay rights and foster a culture of mutual respect.
  2. The Women Economic Empowerment for Lebanon Project (WEEL): Part of the European Union for Women Empowerment (EU4WE) Project in Lebanon, this program provides grants ranging from €15,000 to  50,000 to up to 20 women-owned and women-led businesses and startups in Lebanon. A joint initiative of the Lebanese company Berytech and Expertise France, the EU-funded program aims to promote gender equality and reduce gender-based violence in Lebanon through financial empowerment.
  3. Lebanese League for Women in Business (LLWB): LLWB is a nonprofit organization that advocates for equal opportunities for women in business and entrepreneurship. It provides networking platforms, mentorship programs and training to support women’s professional growth and bridge the wage gap. In 2021 alone, the LLWB achieved remarkable milestones, establishing more than 31 new local and international partnerships and raising $852,197 to tackle gender disparities. Additionally, it implemented more than 350 training initiatives and workshops to support women entrepreneurs in Beirut, North Lebanon and Bekaa and benefited more than 1,400 women, including farmers, professionals and entrepreneurs.
  4. KAFA: Meaning “enough” in Arabic, KAFA is a nonprofit founded in 2005 to combat gender-based violence and discrimination. It advocates for women’s labor rights and equal pay, strives to economically empower women through awareness campaigns and supports research and legal advocacy initiatives. In 2020, KAFA received 9,763 calls and successfully implemented the “Men and Women for Gender Equality Program.” The UN Women provided funding for this program that aims to address the underlying reasons for gender inequality. The program implemented measures to alter biased societal norms regarding gender, supported civil society groups in advocating for legal and policy reforms and urged the government to enforce laws that promote gender equality.
  5. The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Lebanon: As part of its 2030 Agenda, UNDP Lebanon has prioritized women’s social, economic and political advancement in Lebanon. Taking a holistic approach to gender equality, its initiatives promote equal pay and employment opportunities for women, increasing women’s political and leadership presence, guaranteeing legal protections and eliminating gender biases.

Looking Ahead

Through ongoing efforts, Lebanon and the international community are working to address the underlying issues behind the country’s persistent gender wage gap. By supporting women’s social, economic and political empowerment, they are paving the way for a more prosperous and just future for the country as a whole. Still, there appears to be room for more effort and progress. Efforts such as targeted legislation, promoting equality in hiring, promotion and pay, alongside changing social attitudes could go a long way in closing the gender wage gap in Lebanon.  

– Kassem Choukini
Photo: Flickr