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Archives for Afghanistan

From Kenya to Kabul: Women as Decision-Makers, Entrepreneurs, and Leaders

My name is Joanne Lewa, and I am from Kenya. Six months ago, I came to Afghanistan on a temporary work assignment with USAID to assist in the Agency’s outreach to the Afghan public. Before arriving, much of what I had seen in the news about the country was negative.

But the Afghanistan from the news was not the one I experienced during my six-month tour; I found Afghanistan to be a country of breathtaking landscapes and kind people who are embracing positive change and helping their country grow.

My time in Kabul has helped me understand the expansive scope of USAID’s work in Afghanistan—from education, health, democracy and governance, to economic growth, agriculture and women’s empowerment.

But when I step on my Kenya-bound flight this week, the memories of the Afghan women and girls I met will endure—against tremendous odds, they are becoming influential, decisive actors in their country’s development. I think of my two daughters and hope that they will follow in the footsteps of my brave Afghan sisters. Their achievements and the support they receive from their brothers, sons, fathers and husbands have left the greatest impression on me.

USAID assistance to community-based education enabled nearly 105,000 students (more than 65 percent of them girls) in remote villages to attend school. / USAID/Afghanistan

USAID assistance to community-based education enabled nearly 105,000 students (more than 65 percent of them girls) in remote villages to attend school. / USAID/Afghanistan

Girls’ Education

I was particularly interested in how USAID is working to solve a fundamental barrier to girls’ access to education: a lack of school buildings near many villages. To prevent girls from having to travel precariously long distances to reach the nearest schoolhouse, USAID’s community-based education programs provide a way for Afghan students to attend classes near their homes.  USAID has supported the Ministry of Education’s efforts to build thousands of new schools and has also distributed millions of textbooks, trained thousands of teachers—many of them female—and carved out new opportunities for higher education.

USAID’s 14-year partnership with Afghanistan’s Ministry of Public Health has ensured that more children have healthy, thriving mothers and more women survive their pregnancies. / USAID/Afghanistan

USAID’s 14-year partnership with Afghanistan’s Ministry of Public Health has ensured that more children have healthy, thriving mothers and more women survive their pregnancies. / USAID/Afghanistan

The Health of Women and Children

Of course, children—girls and boys—will never make it to their first day of school if they and their mothers do not have access to basic health care. Since 2002, USAID has worked side by side with the Afghan Government and other international donors to rebuild Afghanistan’s health care system. USAID alone has trained thousands of community health workers and midwives across the country. More babies than ever are now delivered by skilled birth attendants, and thousands more are living to see their fifth birthday

Friba Hashimi is living proof of this drastic transition. I met Friba  when I recorded the names of  the women who attended a USAID-sponsored midwifery training. Once confined by the conservative views of her village, she is now a pillar of her community, helping to deliver a new generation of Afghans into the world.

Female participation in the 2014 Afghan elections was unprecedented in scale, with women voters accounting for 38 percent of total turnout according to government counts. / USAID/Afghanistan

Female participation in the 2014 Afghan elections was unprecedented in scale, with women voters accounting for 38 percent of total turnout according to government counts. / USAID/Afghanistan

Women in Politics

I landed in Kabul in the midst of one of the most exciting and important events in Afghanistan’s recent history: the 2014 elections. As I was settling in, women were playing a game-changing role in the election process. Voter participation reached a record high for both men and women. Women also served as election observers, ran for public office and were victorious on the campaign trail. Over the course of my assignment, I saw more and more women getting involved in the leadership of their nation.  Women made up 21 percent of winners from the 2014 Provincial Council Elections, 11 percent of judiciary seats, and 20 percent of judges in training.

USAID is working to increase job placements and wages for Afghan women through increased access to quality technical and business education and training, job placement support services, and facilitated access to credit and business development opportunities. / USAID/Afghanistan

USAID is working to increase job placements and wages for Afghan women through increased access to quality technical and business education and training, job placement support services, and facilitated access to credit and business development opportunities. / USAID/Afghanistan

Women in the Economy

While in Kabul, I also had the chance to speak with many Afghan women who have become business owners, workers and entrepreneurs. In response to the growing demand for the skills needed to participate in the increasingly advanced job market, USAID has provided job training for thousands of women and helped thousands more to find rewarding jobs. In Kenya, women’s contributions in the workplace have greatly improved the economy, and I have faith that USAID’s programs will continue to help women to do the same in Afghanistan.

Afghan women have more opportunities to receive job training and apply for loans to start or expand businesses. Much work remains to be done, and USAID is committed to building upon these critical gains. / Joanne Lewa, USAID/Afghanistan

Afghan women have more opportunities to receive job training and apply for loans to start or expand businesses. Much work remains to be done, and USAID is committed to building upon these critical gains. / Joanne Lewa, USAID/Afghanistan

Women’s Leadership

In November 2014, I was in Kabul when first lady Rula Ghani spoke at the launch of Promote, the largest women’s empowerment program in USAID’s history. Promote will serve as the missing stepping stone between education and careers for thousands of Afghan women driven to serve as political, civil society and private sector leaders.  These women will be pioneers for the rights of Afghan women and girls in every sector of society.

First lady Ghani emphasized the weight of this new opportunity, telling the women in the audience, “This is your world. Shape it or someone else will.”

At the launch, I met inspiring Afghan women who are already making an impact on their communities. They all shared the same refrain: “Afghanistan cannot fly with just one wing.” For the country to prosper, women must be empowered to play decisive roles in Afghanistan’s government, civil society and economy.

Manizha Wafeq, an Afghan business woman, says: “In Afghanistan, men were like birds flying with one wing. With economically empowered women, we shall be able to be the ‘other wing’ and together, we can fly stronger, building our country’s economy and have peace in Afghanistan.” / USAID/Afghanistan

Manizha Wafeq, an Afghan business woman, says: “In Afghanistan, men were like birds flying with one wing. With economically empowered women, we shall be able to be the ‘other wing’ and together, we can fly stronger, building our country’s economy and have peace in Afghanistan.” / USAID/Afghanistan

From Kabul to Kenya

Lately, I’ve been taking stock of the moments that will stay with me from my tour in Afghanistan. The first snow in Kabul and the taste of Afghan bread and rice will long endure in my memory. However, the warm welcome I received from the dedicated team of Americans and Afghans will be unforgettable.

These men and women are committed to one mission: improving the lives of all Afghans day by day, textbook by textbook, job by job, life by life. For those who come to Afghanistan after me, I promise you a once-in-a-lifetime experience. This is a great nation filled with amazing people who are working tirelessly to rebuild their country.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR


Joanne Lewa is a Public Outreach Officer for USAID’s mission in Kenya. She just returned from a six-month temporary assignment in Kabul, Afghanistan.

Building the Bridges of the New Silk Road

Silk still plays a role in the New Silk Road. Household silk production feeds Afghanistan’s carpet and textile industry. USAID is helping open up trade routes and increase economic connectivity between Central and South Asia as part the New Silk Road Initiative. / USAID

Silk still plays a role in the New Silk Road: Household silk production feeds Afghanistan’s carpet and textile industry. USAID is helping open up trade routes and increase economic connectivity between Central and South Asia as part the New Silk Road Initiative. / USAID

For hundreds of years, the main trade routes between Europe and the Pacific passed directly through what are now the countries of Central Asia. These trade routes brought prosperity and fostered the exchange of ideas and technology across cultural boundaries. In recent decades, civil unrest, ethnic tension, and mistrust have led to Central Asia being a roadblock instead of a thoroughfare for trade.

What would it take to reconnect Central and South Asia?

Support for new transmission lines connecting the sources of power in one country with customers in another?

Or millions of dollars in trade agreements, reviving age-old connections between traditional trading partners?

Maybe it’s a fortified wheat program, poised to improve nutrition for millions of Afghanistan’s children; or strengthened cooperation in transboundary watersheds to enhance regional peace and stability?

USAID has made these contributions and more as a part of the U.S. Government’s New Silk Road initiative, an ambitious effort to build a more secure, stable and prosperous region with Afghanistan at its heart.

While the goals of the program are lofty, the benefits of these programs are quite specific.

Manzura Zhabarova is an Uzbek entrepreneur who owns a clothing and thread manufacturing company. Our programs helped connect her with a new market: prospective clients in Mazar-i-Sharif, Afghanistan. “I could not believe that this world existed 800 meters away from us on the other side of the bridge,” she said. “It’s our responsibility to help our neighbors in Afghanistan. Trade is how we can help.”

USAID’s Deputy Assistant Administrator Manpreet Anand meets with regional traders attending USAID’s Central Asia Trade Forum held last year in Almaty, Kazakhstan. / USAID.

USAID’s Deputy Assistant Administrator Manpreet Anand meets with regional traders attending USAID’s Central Asia Trade Forum held last year in Almaty, Kazakhstan. / USAID.

There are few greater challenges for U.S. foreign policy today than the continued development and stabilization of Afghanistan. As military engagement winds down there, it becomes even more critical to build on the gains of U.S. defense, diplomacy and development efforts.

Afghanistan’s new administration is working to bolster its regional ties in order to promote the economic growth and stability its citizens need. As Afghan President Ashraf Ghani noted during a recent visit to Turkmenistan, “At the moment, Afghanistan has turned into a bridge.  Our trade and transit can create many opportunities; energy and electricity and natural gas will be sent to Afghanistan and to other countries through Afghanistan.”

Our efforts are helping to make this vision a reality. For example, we’re advancing regional electricity efforts, particularly through our support for CASA-1000, an ambitious electricity transmission system sending surplus summer hydropower from Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan to energy-strapped markets in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

USAID helped the Aga Khan Foundation and Pamir Energy inaugurate newly constructed power transmission lines in Khorugh, Tajikistan, to meet the energy needs of Afghanistan's Badakhshon province. / USAID

USAID helped inaugurate newly constructed power transmission lines in Khorugh, Tajikistan, to meet the energy needs of Afghanistan’s Badakhshon province. / USAID

Recently, our support helped finalize a regional pricing agreement, helping pave the way for regional electricity transfers which would bring much needed revenue to Central Asia as early as 2018.

The benefits would be felt well beyond the exchange of energy. As State Department Deputy Assistant Secretary Fatema Sumar said, “CASA isn’t really about turning the lights on. It’s about getting countries to work together. That’s priceless.”

From Karaganda to Karachi, our programs are breaking down trade barriers and creating economic opportunity in ways that promote political understanding. Around the region, we are helping countries join and participate in the World Trade Organization, bringing businesses together, leading to millions of dollars in regional deals and sparking new demand for intra-regional trade between Central and South Asia.

These efforts have prompted us to think in new ways about how we work together as an Agency. Our New Silk Road initiatives involve the coordinated efforts of five separate USAID missions, representing two regional Bureaus and leveraging shared human and financial capital toward achieving shared objectives.

In Tajikistan, about half of all Tajik rural households do not have access to safe, potable water. USAID helps turn water from a source of conflict to a source of cooperation. / USAID

In Tajikistan, about half of all rural households do not have access to safe, potable water. USAID helps turn water from a source of conflict to a source of cooperation. / USAID

This is a pivotal time for Central and South Asia. This vast region faces challenges and opportunities. On the one hand, the Central Asian states have begun to grapple with the potential rise of violent extremism. On the other, in South Asia the world’s largest population centers seek faster economic development and integration into the global economy. We have responded accordingly – with diplomatic engagement and development leadership – because increasing prosperity and stability in this part of the world benefits us all.

At the recent London Conference on Afghanistan, Secretary Kerry reaffirmed that “Afghanistan’s economic future depends on improved connectivity with regional and international markets.”

The New Silk Road is an example of the far-reaching impact our development programs can have, and raises the bar of what we can expect from our investments in international development.

ABOUT THE AUTHORS

Assistant Donald “Larry” Sampler serves as Assistant to the Administrator in the Office of Afghanistan and Pakistan Affairs (OAPA). Jonathan Stivers serves as the Assistant to the Administrator in the Asia Bureau.

The Courage of Atefa: Afghan Women Learn to be Candidates

It’s hard to imagine someone more optimistic about her country’s future, more determined to be on the front lines of social change, than Atefa, whose last name is being withheld for security reasons.

Women provincial council candidates in training.

Women provincial council candidates in training. Photo credit: Jean-Marc Gorelick

Only 25 years old, and already a teacher with seven years of challenging classroom experience, she is running for provincial council in Kabul, a governing body similar to a U.S. state legislature.  It was an agonizing decision, made with full awareness of the risks she would face, but she couldn’t be clearer about her reasons:  “I am running because I want to serve the vulnerable groups, the women and especially girls. Girls who are educated stay at home because they are not allowed to work outside and even if they are allowed they cannot get good jobs,” she says.

This young woman’s leap into the democratic fray, fueled by a belief that Afghanistan’s successful future will require the talents and commitment of men and women from every walk of life, is occurring in the midst of what is almost certainly the most significant election (presidential and provincial) in her country’s history, scheduled to take place on April 5.

And Atefa is not alone.

 Hundreds of young women – and, to be sure, young men – have signaled their eagerness to be participate in a moment with so many seemingly intractable problems: insecurity, poverty, illiteracy.

Now come the formidable and often frustrating challenges of running for office. Atefa now must run her campaign, meet voters, prepare campaign materials, hone her ability to speak publicly, and present a vision for her country’s future.

USAID is helping women in Afghanistan learn to become candidates. / Photo c/o U.S. Government

USAID is helping women in Afghanistan learn to become candidates. / Photo c/o U.S. Government

First-time candidates often lack the skills needed to campaign effectively. Funds to produce materials can be hard to come by. And, in a country still confronting challenges from those who prefer rage over renewal, many candidates have had their lives threatened.

To address these challenges, USAID supported a campaign school, which began on November 9, 2013, training 290 of 308 women provincial council candidates.

This training is provided by the National Democratic Institute (NDI), through the Supporting Political Entities and Civil Society (SPECS) program.

Each five-day workshop provides candidates with nuts and bolts information on conducting a campaign, fundraising, staff management and voter outreach. On the last day of the training, candidates produce a plan to guide them through the campaign cycle.

The training plays a vital role in expanding women’s political participation, a key component of Afghan democratic development. By enhancing the ability of women to compete for provincial council seats, this program contributes to achieving greater inclusivity in the Afghanistan 2014 elections.

None of the formidable challenges seem to have dampened the enthusiasm of extraordinary Afghan women determined to be valued and included in a democratic Afghanistan.

With her drive and courage, aided by her new tools, Atefa will be ready.

Follow @USAIDAfghanistan; On Facebook: On Flickr: On Youtube

Political Transition Assistance and Prevention of Gender Based Violence

From November 25th (International End Violence Against Women Day) through December 10th (International Human Rights Day), USAID joins the international community for 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence. During this time IMPACT will highlight USAID’s work to combat gender-based violence.

She was abandoned as a baby at a rural hospital in Bihar, India. The hospital, at a loss for what to do with an infant girl, gave her away – to a brothel. Through concerted efforts of an anti-human trafficking organization in India, Apne Aap Women Worldwide, she was adopted and housed at the nonprofit’s shelter for girls. Thanks to Apne Aap, she escaped the brothel at an early age, rescued from a life of forced prostitution that awaited her. This year she graduated from secondary school. She wants to be a doctor.

In a nearby village named Khawaspur, I met a girl about the same age who was living a very different life. Despite significant efforts to remove her from the red light area of the village, she was forced into prostitution at the age of 12. For the past 5 years she has been living with daily exposure to sexual violence. Forced to lie about her age to authorities, she lives in hollow silence.

Younger students have participated in a USAID program, based on an understanding that young people are still developing ideas about gender and relationships. Photo Credit: J. Harris, International Medical Corps

Younger students have participated in a USAID program, based on an understanding that young people are still developing ideas about gender and relationships. Photo Credit: J. Harris, International Medical Corps

I saw these two stories with my own eyes, and learned of the cruel cycle that we at USAID try to break:  poverty, women’s systematic exclusion, and a lack of education, among other factors, all contribute to endemic gender-based violence (GBV) and the disproportionate maltreatment of women.   Endemic GBV and women’s inequality on the other hand threaten the stability and development of any given country or region.  In addition, we know that in conflicts and crises, GBV is more prevalent and these issues are magnified.  This is why USAID continues to be focused on ending GBV.

GBV is the violation of human rights on the basis of gender, and encompasses a wide-range of issues including bride kidnapping, sexual violence, and human trafficking. Given the breadth and complexity of the issue, USAID’s Office of Transition Initiatives (OTI) helps increase community education, support for prevention and response, and women’s inclusion in political processes – all critical issues that threaten both the stability and rights of citizens, such as GBV.

For example, in Kyrgyzstan, where bride kidnappings are a serious issue, OTI partnered with a local NGO to engage students from three universities in the southern city of Osh in discussions on bride kidnapping and recent changes to laws that increase jail time for perpetrators. Young women – and men – are uninformed about bride kidnapping laws and the legal process, and women often face stigma from communities and families when attempting to resist captivity.  With OTI’s support, the local organization activity utilized street theater performances, t-shirts, brochures, and public service announcements to empower students to take a stand against bride kidnapping and serve as an example for others.  In addition to confronting bridal kidnapping, the program functioned as part of a larger effort to address sources of instability and support the democratic transition,

In Burma, OTI supports a local organization to conduct a qualitative study on violence against women.  Women’s rights organizations plan to utilize the findings to enhance service and response mechanisms and support prevention and response programs around the country.

To address sexual violence in Sri Lanka, OTI-supported youth led more than 1,000 individuals in protests against sexual violence, with representation from diverse ethnic and religious groups from six districts across Sri Lanka.  Support for these youth groups was delivered through OTI’s Sexual Assault Forensic Evaluation (SAFE) program.

In addition to these activities directly addressing gender-based violence, the Office of Transition Initiatives supports a number of other initiatives as components of transition programming in countries including Syria, Tunisia, Afghanistan, and Burma. These initiatives promote women’s participation in the political process, build the role of women in government and civil society, and raise awareness on critical issues impacting women and girls. Inclusion of women in transition processes will promote their positions as equal stakeholders in democracy, and encourage prevention of gender-based violence. In conflict and crisis environments, providing an inclusive platform for those impacted by sexual violence to become agents of change in their own communities is critical for protecting the rights and security of individuals, and for the development of legitimate political processes.

With writing support from Lisa Bower, Program Manager and Gender Point of Contact at the Office of Transition Assistance, and  Melissa Hough, Special Assistant to the Assistant Administrator, Bureau for Democracy, Human Rights, and Governance.

FrontLines: What is Open Development?

Frontlines-Open-Dev-Banner_Web

Read the latest edition of USAID’s FrontLines to learn how the Agency is embracing open development to further its work. Also in this issue, read about some of the places where USAID’s interests intersect with those of the U.S. military. Some highlights:

 

  • “What we are trying to do is be a global one-stop shop for a good idea.” Jeff Brown has more to say about the projects USAID’s three-year-old Development Innovation Ventures is backing and how those projects are faring in countries around the world.
  • Diving for lobster in Honduras’s Miskito Coast has left more than 1,000 divers disabled or dead since the 1970s and 1980s when the crustacean became popular on dinner menus. However, a large American restaurant chain is doing its part to ensure that practice ends alongside more than 80 local and international groups, businesses and government agencies
  • What’s next for USAID’s Saving Lives at Birth million dollar winners? Four inspired doctors talk about the innovations they’ve helped devise and their hopes for saving new moms’ lives as a result. 
  • A bustling secondary school farm in Jamaica can trace its roots of success to a collaboration between local police, U.S. soldiers and a group of determined parents and educators.
  • With half of Afghans living in a disaster belt studded with earthquakes, landslides and flooding, USAID and the U.S. military are helping the country’s citizens acquire the skills they need to survive natural disasters and save the lives of their neighbors.

If you want an e-mail reminder in your inbox when the latest issue of FrontLines has been posted online, subscribe here.

From the Field in Afghanistan: A Media Revolution

Like many people, I remember staying up late on Friday nights to watch Indian movies on TV. The difference was that there was only Afghanistan National Television — the only TV station in my country until about 10 years ago. This was a fully state-run station, without programs for people to freely share their points of view or their thoughts and ideas for better governance. Everyone watched the national station, because there was no other choice. There was no chance for others to establish TV stations, because of the political and security situation.

Right now in Afghanistan, there are 35 TV stations, more than 100 radio stations and more than 150 newspapers in both official languages — Dari and Pashto — that reach 15 million Afghans. We have come a long way in the last 10 years.

USAID has funded more than 50 community radio stations and trained more than 11,440 journalists since the fall of the Taliban. Photo credit: Internews Afghanistan

USAID has funded more than 50 community radio stations and trained more than 11,440 journalists since the fall of the Taliban. Photo credit: Internews Afghanistan

Since 2002, access to independent media has expanded in part due to USAID’s partnership with the country’s premier media training and advocacy organization, Nai, to empower members of the media through training and advocacy sessions. USAID also works with the Afghan government to revise its laws on mass media and access to information so that there is a more welcoming environment for journalistic outlets.

This kind of work has also started to close the gap between the media and the Afghan people. I remember my father telling me how difficult it was for Afghan people to face TV cameras. In the past, cameras weren’t common in Afghanistan, and people were reluctant to give interviews, so their voices were missing from media coverage of issues.

The establishment of different media organizations after 2001 was a big step in bridging this gap, connecting media outlets to their viewers, listeners and readers. USAID’s work has also helped to increase trust in the media. Step by step, people have gained a better understanding about how the media works. Today, media reports are more balanced, because people have more trust in the media and are now more willing to go on-camera to discuss their views.

The media revolution in Afghanistan has had a big impact on the people of this country. The new TV stations broadcast music and TV dramas from other countries, which is a new experience for people who lived through three decade of war. People have become fans of international music and TV serials. If I ask someone about political issues in our country, he or she might give a short response, but I could also ask a nine-year-old boy about an American TV series, and he will talk for hours! That’s the choice we were missing when I was a small boy.

When I walk around Kabul, I see and hear people discussing new music shows and Turkish dramas because they are tired of political and security issues. They want a break from tribal and ethnic discussions, and want to live happily with their families. But no matter what the issue, Afghans are better informed of issues in their own country.

Learn more about USAID’s work to promote independent media around the world. To learn how Internews is supporting open media in Afghanistan, please visit www.internews.org

Like USAID Afghanistan on Facebook and follow on Twitter (@usaidafghan) for ongoing updates in the region!

Girls and Women Transforming Societies

This year’s United Nations General Assembly focuses on the realization of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and inclusive development goals for persons with disabilities. 

Alex Thier is Assistant to the Administrator for Policy, Planning, and Learning

Alex Thier is Assistant to the Administrator for Policy, Planning, and Learning. Follow him at @thieristan

Elevating the political, social, and economic status of women and girls is a central and indispensable element of global progress towards creating a more prosperous, peaceful, and equitable world, and ending extreme poverty within our lifetime.

The eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) established in 2000 focus heavily on advancing women and girls (and intensively tracking that progress). And, as today’s USAID and UK’s Department for International Development event on Girls and Women Transforming Societies demonstrates, we’re making some astonishing progress.

Look for example in sub-Saharan Africa: net primary education enrollment for girls has risen substantially from 47 percent in 1990 to 75 percent in 2011. While a Gender Disparity Index shows only slight increases in secondary education in the same region – from .76 to .83, women are gaining ground in non-agricultural work employment, increasing a workforce presence from 24 percent in 1990 to 33 percent in 2011.

Some countries, like Afghanistan, have made enormous transformations in access to education. In 2002, 900,000 boys were in school and virtually no girls attended due to a Taliban prohibition. As of 2012 over eight million students were enrolled in Afghan schools with girls accounting for over one third.

Similarly, the maternal death rate in sub-Saharan Africa has significantly dropped by 20 years – an estimated 41 per cent. Figures released by WHO, UNICEF, UNFPA and The World Bank showed the 1990 rate of 850 deaths per 100,000 live births declined to a regional average of 500 deaths per 100,000 live births by 2010.

There is still enormous progress to be made, and in many areas the world we are still well short of the MDGs. But what this progress shows us is that these goals are achievable, and that as goes the welfare of women and girls, so goes the welfare of their societies.

In that sense, one of the most important advances may be in the area of women’s political representation. Since 2000, the proportion of women in parliaments in the developing world has increased by two-thirds, although it remains at only 20 percent. Rwanda has the highest number of women parliamentarians worldwide. Women there have won 56.3 per cent of seats in the lower house. Increasing women’s political participation can benefit issues that may be over looked by exclusively male decision makers. For example, research on panchayats (local councils) in India revealed that the number of drinking water projects in areas with female-led councils was 62 per cent higher than in those with male-led councils.

But, much more needs to be done. Improvements in employment and women’s reproductive health still lag. Women still are more likely to work in the informal economy, earn less than men, and be over-represented in low-wage jobs. For too many women, the process of childbirth is unsafe or results in the death of mother or child.

One thing we do know for certain though – the only way to bring people out of extreme poverty is to include and empower women in broad based economic growth and to close the economic gaps between women and men. Without inclusive practices that promote gender equality and female empowerment, extreme poverty is sure to persist well beyond the next generation.

Today’s event in New York City illustrates how women’s leadership in grassroots advocacy, local solutions and the power of technology can steer the global community on the path to meeting our MDG goals and advancing gender equality and female empowerment in the post-2015 framework.

Learn more about USAID’s work in education.

Learn more about USAID’s role in this year’s United Nations General Assembly. Follow @USAID, @thieristan, and @RajShah for ongoing updates during the week and join the conversation on Twitter with the hashtags #UNGA and #UNGA2013.

 

Photos of the Week: AID in Action: Delivering on Results

Driving human progress is at the core of USAID’s mission, but what do development results look like?

USAID is measuring our leadership in results — not dollars spent — implementing innovative, cost-effective strategies to save lives. Through investments in science, technology and innovation, USAID is harnessing new partners and young minds to transform more lives than ever before. Our new model for development embraces game-changing partnerships that leverage resources, expertise, and science and technology to maximize our impact and deliver real results.

Take a look at the Agency’s top recent and historical achievements in promoting better health; food security; democracy and good governance; education; economic growth, and in providing a helping hand to communities in need around the globe.

Read the stories behind the results in the special edition of FrontLines: Aid in Action: Delivering on Results.

Follow @USAID and @USAIDpubs for ongoing updates on the best of our results!

From the Field in Afghanistan: Mobile Phones Changing Lives

I grew up in Afghanistan, and I remember the early 1990s and 2000s, when it was very difficult for people to reach one another by phone. Not everyone had access to analog phones. When people wanted to communicate, most had to travel — often long distances — to meet in person.

Communication outside the country was even harder. We could only send a letter and wait for a response. This was even more problematic during the Taliban regime, when such systems were not functioning properly.

But my country is a phenomenal place to apply new technologies, and the Afghan people love to use them. The first telecommunications company was established in 2002, after the fall of the Taliban. From that point, mobile technologies took off. Today, five companies offer mobile services to more than 18 million subscribers. It’s now quite common to see young people chatting and surfing the Web on their phones.

“Internet on my phone has helped me to stay connected with friends,” one university student told me, adding, “It has given me the ability to get daily news updates from all around the world.”

Omar, who owns a supermarket in Kabul, uses M-Paisa for most of his transactions. Photo credit: USAID/Afghanistan

Omar, who owns a supermarket in Kabul, uses M-Paisa for most of his transactions. Photo credit: USAID/Afghanistan

With USAID’s support, Afghanistan’s telecommunication sector is also connecting people with mobile money products. In 2008, Roshan Telecommunication began offering M-Paisa, a digital “wallet” people can use for banking. Users set up M-Paisa accounts through a certified mobile money agent and load cash to their mobile wallets, which they can then transfer to other M-Paisa accounts. The recipients can keep the funds in their M-Paisa accounts or go to an agent to convert them to cash.

My friend Omar, who has a store in Kabul, uses M-Paisa for most of his transactions. He orders products from other companies with a phone call and pays the invoices using M-Paisa. Payment takes only a minute, and costs him very little.

“It’s worth it,” he says. “It helps me do my daily business better and I feel much more secure.” Using mobile money means he doesn’t have to carry large amounts of cash.

In remote areas, some members of the Afghan National Police are paid via mobile money. This system helps make sure they receive their full salaries on time. The first time they received their paychecks this way, their salaries seemed 30 percent higher, because they had finally received their full salaries. Mobile money had helped stop corruption along the chain.

More recently, the Afghan utility company Da Afghanistan Breshna Sherkat launched a product that lets consumers pay electricity bills using their mobile phones. This change will make a huge difference, because people won’t have to wait in long queues to pay their bills.

“More than 100,000 households in Kabul City have registered to pay their electricity bills through their mobile phones,” DABS CEO Abdul Razeq Samadi said. “Now the bills are also sent to their mobiles phones via SMS, making sure that everyone gets them on time.”

A decade ago, I couldn’t have imagined that there would be so many ways to use an ordinary mobile phone, but today, most of people can access these services. I am sure the future will be bright.

 

From the Field in Afghanistan: Children Teaching Their Elders

Last summer, my sister was surprised when my 7-year-old son Abdullah told her, “Don’t throw that on the street,” referring to an empty ice-cream container.

After the Taliban regime ended in 2001, many Afghan refugees returned home from Pakistan and Iran, where almost 5 million people had fled during three decades of war. Most of those who returned came to the city of Kabul, where it was easier to find jobs and earn a living. As a result, Kabul’s population has increased by 4 million in 12 years. In 2012, there were more than 5.5 million living in the city.

Kabul was originally built for 1.5 million people, so that many more people meant more traffic — and more trash. Most people were not helping to keep the city clean. They threw garbage on everywhere, it seemed, but in the trash cans. Kabul became very dirty.

Shir Sultan has introduced the “Green and Clean” campaign to 175,000 schoolchildren in 125 schools throughout the city. Above, Shir Sultan and Malika sing Afghan poems with children at Allaudin School. Photo credit: USAID Kabul City Initiative

Shir Sultan has introduced the “Green and Clean” campaign to 175,000 schoolchildren in 125 schools throughout the city. Above, Shir Sultan and Malika sing Afghan poems with children at Allaudin School. Photo credit: USAID Kabul City Initiative

To help overcome this challenge, USAID — together with the municipal government of Kabul and the Afghan Ministry of Education — launched the “Clean and Green” campaign. The campaign focuses on schoolchildren, using visual materials and live performances to share key messages. Two Afghan artists, acting as Shir Sultan (Kabul’s “Lion King”) and Malika (his queen), put on live shows for the children. Through Shir Sultan’s campaign of coloring books, billboards, posters and live theater, schoolchildren are learning how to plant trees, what to do with their garbage, and how to keep their city clean for many years to come.

When I was at school, we didn’t have practical campaigns like these to teach us about our social responsibilities. I am proud to work with USAID, which is supporting the development of countries such as Afghanistan. My son is one of the children who has learned from Shir Sultan’s performance at his school, and from the campaign billboards and coloring books, that he should not litter. He is also stopping others from littering — even his own aunt — and encouraging them to throw their garbage in trashcans.

Shir Sultan reads his storybook to children at Amani School in Kabul. Photo credit: USAID Kabul City Initiative

Shir Sultan reads his storybook to children at Amani School in Kabul. Photo credit: USAID Kabul City Initiative

“I am very proud of my little nephew,” my sister told me, “who understands his responsibility toward society and is even teaching me. I hope we will have a prosperous country and a bright future with children like him.”

“I hope that Abdullah and other children like him who grow up in this time will build this country. I hope with the support of American people and the international community, Afghanistan will come out of these problems,” my sister added.

Like USAID Afghanistan on Facebook and follow @USAIDAfghan on Twitter  for ongoing updates in the region. 

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