The role of women in the “Transformational Decade” (2014-2024) is inextricably linked to security, economic opportunity and the overall success of Afghanistan. Investment in women and girls are an effective lever for poverty alleviation and social development. In the last decade, investments in women have produced significant results and have built a strong foundation for further investments and progress in the next decade. Today, nearly 40 percent of school-aged girls – almost 3,000,000 - are enrolled in schools, including 164,000 girls in secondary schools. An additional 40,000 young women attend public or private universities or technical and vocational training institutes, with more enrolling each year; life expectancy has increased to 64 years for both women and men; 27 percent of seats in the Afghan National Assembly and 25 percent in the provincial councils are reserved for women; women’s organizations are working to end violence and discrimination against women; and equal rights for women are enshrined in the Afghan Constitution and in official Afghan policy.
The U.S. Government is committed to working alongside the Afghan government to remove constraints on women’s potential because their contributions to Afghan society are imperative for lasting peace, stability, and social progress.
USAID plays a leading role in implementing the US government’s civilian strategy for assistance to women in Afghanistan in the areas of health, education, and economic development, and it plays a supporting role in implementing the strategy in the areas of security, access to justice and political empowerment.
INCREASING ACCESS TO HEALTHCARE
Nearly 60 percent of Afghans now lives within two hours walking distance to the nearest health facility, up from nine percent in 2002. In partnership with the Afghan government, USAID has implemented projects to bring basic health and hospital services to women in 13 provinces. These projects provide maternal healthcare and immunizations, fight malnutrition and communicable diseases, diagnose and treat mental health problems and disabilities, and provide essential medicines.
Infant and child mortality rates have fallen 22 percent and 26 percent respectively since 2002. Support for midwifery education has helped to reduce maternal mortality, which has decreased significantly from 1,600 per 100,000 births to 327 per 100,000 births. USAID works to increase the number of female healthcare workers and promote women’s entry into medical fields. As a result, the percentage of USAID-funded healthcare facilities reporting at least one female healthcare worker has risen from 26 percent in 2002 to approximately 87 percent in 2012.
DEVELOPING ECONOMIC GROWTH OPPORTUNITIES
Although women make up 35.8 percent of the country’s labor force, less than one percent has access to financial services. Many women work in the informal sector and are denied access to their own incomes. Increasing women’s economic empowerment is the focus of USAID assistance, with $3.5 million dispersed in micro-credit loans to women’s businesses, fostering social participation, as well as increasing knowledge and skills. USAID supported 2,300 women-owned enterprises, helped establish 400 new businesses, and trained more than 5,000 women in local handicrafts, value-chain, and fine-arts businesses. Female entrepreneurs also receive assistance in several areas including horticulture, food processing, veterinary science, and cashmere harvesting. Women comprise 60 percent of the country’s agricultural workforce. USAID established the first Women’s Farm Service Center in Kabul, serving 10,000 women. Twenty-five female agricultural master trainers were taught to train female farmers, and agricultural programs were established in four schools. USAID funds diverse agricultural programs increasing women’s participation in agribusinesses. The U.S. also creates opportunities for women who must work from home and provides marketing services for their products.
DEVELOPING ECONOMIC GROWTH OPPORTUNITIES
Women comprise only 27percent of the country’s formal sector labor force and have access to less than one percent of the financial services. Many women work in the informal sector and are denied access to their own incomes. Increasing women’s economic empowerment is not only a focus of USAID assistance, but also is a sustainable goal post-transition. Since 2004, USAID has supported more than 2,300 women-owned enterprises, helped establish 400 new businesses, and trained more than 5,000 women in local handicrafts, value-chain and fine-arts businesses. Female entrepreneurs also receive assistance in horticulture, food processing, veterinary science and cashmere harvesting.
Women comprise 60 percent of the country’s agricultural workforce. To help women increase their agricultural productivity USAID trains women in agricultural best practices, provides marketing services, and finances loans. USAID established three Farm Service Centers specifically for women. USAID funds programs to increase women’s participation in agribusinesses. The U.S. also creates opportunities for women who work from home and provides essential marketing services for their products. All of these projects focus on women pursuing self-sustaining opportunities.
INCREASING LITERACY AND EDUCATIONAL OPPORTUNITIES
Since 2002, USAID has built or refurbished more than 680 schools, about 10 percent of which are girls-only schools. In 2010, 37 percent of the seven million children enrolled in grades 1-12 were female. Despite remarkable gains in girls’ (and boys’) education, a large gap remains in the country’s ability to provide quality education to its female population; a majority of rural Afghan women are functionally illiterate.
USAID’s education projects invest in teacher training for women, development and printing of materials and textbooks that portray women in non-traditional ways, as well as basic furnishings to facilitate girls’ attendance. Community-based education classes have supported 70,000 girls and 390 female teachers in remote areas. Literacy and numeracy skills training have reached more than 94,000 Afghans of which 62 percent are female in 20 provinces.
SUPPORTING WOMEN’S RIGHTS
To promote further advancement of women’s rights, USAID is partnering with the Afghan government to provide women’s rights awareness training for female law students and judges, sponsor roundtables to promote public debate and dialogue on women’s rights, help build their skills to influence public policy and reform advocacy efforts, support equal voter registration outreach, assists women candidates, and promote gender equality in political parties. USAID trains female judges to officiate over courts, manage cases, and provide due process to Afghan citizens.
Additionally, USAID has trained more than 820 female journalists, 720 women executives, 1,280 civil-society organization members, and 166 national legislators across the country. USAID initiatives have helped shape gender-related legislation like the law for the Elimination of Violence Against Women.
WOMEN AS A STABILIZING FORCE
USAID has pioneered non-traditional approaches to engage women at the community level to ensure they benefit from village-based programs. Through the Community Development Program, USAID has hired over 4,000 women to refurbish buildings in the southern, eastern and western regions of the country. In addition, nearly a million women have benefitted from community stabilization grants.
Last updated: April 14, 2014