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Archives for Afghanistan

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.

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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?

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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. 

The Challenges and Successes of Stabilization in Afghanistan

USAID’s Stabilization in Key Areas (SIKA) program in Afghanistan has been in the news over the past few days, primarily due to the challenging nature of the SIKA’s goals.  The program was not designed to handle easy issues.  In fact, the program strives to strike at several difficult challenges that will influence Afghanistan’s future after the transition in 2014.

At its heart, SIKA aims to reduce the influence of the insurgency in Afghanistan.  The program has had success in building up sub-national governance structures such as local government and community development councils (CDCs) and in helping to address grievances and needs of Afghan communities.

Contrary to some reporting, USAID, in coordination with our Afghan partners, has done much more with SIKA than just holding meetings.  While some have focused on the grant disbursement aspect of SIKA, it is important to take a look at the broader aspects of the entire program.  Just this past week, SIKA conducted five capacity building training sessions in eastern Afghanistan.  And there have been 34 just for the month of June in that region.  The other regional programs in the north, west and south have also held dozens of trainings in public outreach, human rights for women, project implementation methodology, and more, while supporting dialogues between district officials and communities about key issues associated with the ongoing insurgency.  The result is an increase in government effectiveness and public confidence that reduces the influence of the insurgency.

SIKA has produced tangible results.    In the north, SIKA has trained over 2180 elected Afghan leaders from over 930 CDCs in how to identify and address sources of instability. SIKA has also been working hard to increase female participation in governance at the district level – in the last three months SIKA conducted 12 training courses for women in western Afghanistan in human rights, nutrition, literacy and vocational training.  These trainings are achieving results – women’s participation in male-dominated community councils is sharply up.  And district governors have reported that SIKA has allowed them to establish ties to constituents in far-flung areas which they could not previously reach.

While grant awards have been slower than anticipated, USAID needed to obtain the necessary agreement from the newly appointed Afghan leadership at the ministry primarily responsible for SIKA.

This delay in securing a formal agreement with the Afghan government led to a delay in the implementation of grants.  While not ideal, we stand by our commitment to ensure our programs are Afghan-led.

It is also important to note that SIKA has made significant progress in grants execution.   Two-hundred twenty-three grants worth over $6 million have been approved, with an additional 352 grants worth over $10.6 million are in development.  SIKA is now on track with a viable implementation timeline for completing the program.

All of these activities are designed to help both the US and Afghan governments handle the 2014 transition as seamlessly and effectively as possible.

Video of the Week: USAID Launches “Promote” a New Initiative to Benefit Afghan Women

Last week, Administrator Shah at the United States Insittute for Peace, launched a five-year program targeting the education, promotion, and training of a new generation of Afghan women, aged 18-30.  Named “Promote,” the program’s goal is to increase women’s contributions to Afghanistan’s development by strengthening women’s rights groups, boosting female participation in the economy, increasing the number of women in decision making positions within the Afghan government, and helping women gain business and management skills. Learn more about “Promote”  in this clip from BBC World News.

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