Remarks by Administrator Rajiv Shah at the U.S. Institute of Peace Regarding Afghanistan Promote

Thursday, July 18, 2013

[Remarks As Delivered]

I want to thank Jim for that kind introduction, and also highlight that I appreciate his contributions and remarks. The United States Government and policymakers everywhere depend on the insights, ideas, and frankly the people at the U.S. Institute of Peace to help push all of us to ensure that we are making and implementing policies that drive toward the right outcomes.

I also want to take a moment to recognize, since today is such an important statement of America’s long term support of Afghanistan and Afghan women and girls in particular, Ambassador Hakimi and Mrs. Hakimi. Whom I believe are here in terms of their long term commitment on this issue and the strength of our partnership in the development of civil society, of private sector economic growth, and the full range of issues that USAID is proud to partner with Afghanistan on.

You will all have a chance to hear from an amazingly talented panel of leaders. I had a chance to spend some time with them just now. You will meet Hossai Wardak, Naheed Farid, Rangina Hamidi, Palwasha Kakar, William Bryd, and Kathleen Keuhnast. All will share their unique insights and ideas. Some are inspirational leaders who are the very embodiment of the idea that if Afghanistan is going to be successful in the long term, especially in the context of an American transition of military engagement. That success is fundamentally grounded in a society that creates opportunities for women and girls. You will be convinced of that I’m sure, for those of you who are not already, by the end of this excellent panel discussion.

Our team here is led by Carla Koppell. I am sure many of you may know Carla, but she for years served as the Agency’s Gender Advisor and is now our first-ever Chief Strategy Officer. Carla has worked with an amazing group of committed leaders at USAID both in Kabul, throughout Afghanistan, and here in Washington including Larry Sampler, Kath Campbell, Ken Yamashita, Gordon Weynand, Peter Duffy, Rachel Roe, Vic Getz, Kristen Cordell, and many other to worked to put together the opportunity today to make an announcement about the largest single investment USAID has made throughout its history to the future of women and girls anywhere in the world.

Finally and most importantly, this type of opportunity would simply not be possible which the leadership from talented and committed individuals on Capitol Hill. I want to note that the Bipartisan Afghan Women’s Task Force has been critical in providing insight and confidence that the American public can support a modest but highly leverage and important investment in Afghanistan’s future. I have heard personally from leaders ranging from Minority Leader Pelosi from Granger and to Ranking Member Lowey and so many other leaders in the House and in the Senate, women and men who really have been dramatically committed to the basic idea that as we achieve a military transition, Afghanistan’s future will be more dependent on its development progress and in particular the on role of women in society.

It’s through that lens that we are here today. Over a decade ago in defiance of the Taliban’s ban on women practicing medicine, a young Afghan medical doctor continued to train midwifes and visit health clinics. Wherever she went, Dr. Suraya Dalil saw dire conditions for women and girls. Average life expectancy had shrunk to just 42 years—often because the Taliban didn’t allow women to visit doctors. The maternal mortality rate had shot up to 5 times higher than nearby India and 123 times higher than the U.S. Women were prohibited from teaching—an act that nearly destroyed primary education in Afghanistan and nearly robbed a nation of its future.

But Dr. Dalil in these trying circumstances refused to give up. After the war, she rose to become Minster of Public Health helping to rebuild her country’s health system from scratch. Working closely with USAID and the Ministry, we expanded health services by nearly 60 percent. They created a legion of 22,000 community health care volunteers who went into communities searching for the opportunity to improve lives. And they enabled Afghanistan to achieve one of the largest and fastest decreases in maternal and child mortality anywhere in the world in the last decade saving tens of thousands of children and mothers’ lives.

Dr. Dalil’s story is not unique. She represents the courage, perseverance, and ingenuity of countless women who stood up against fear and oppression at its darkest hours. They made the data we use to make decisions very real and very visible. Data like the fact that a dollar of income that goes to a women is more likely to be invested in children, in families, in communities, and in sustained economic development than that same dollar being directed toward a man.

Each and every one of these women underscore what is possible when we focus our resources in smart and coherent ways at empowering women as the change agents within their societies.

I am very pleased to have the opportunity today to announce a program that underscores American long-term commitment to Afghanistan and specifically to Afghan women. It’s a partnership we call Promote.

We aren’t setting our sights low. We aren’t scaling back our ambitions at this critical point in our history. The Promote Partnership will be the largest investment USAID has ever made to advance women in development.

The program will make available more than $400 million dollars with contributions of nearly $200 million dollars from the United States, and we seek to raise more the $200 million dollars from other international donors many of which have already expressed a willingness to invest. Over five years, we will reach over 75,000 Afghan women directly helping them to achieve leadership roles in all parts of society from business to academia and in politics and public policy. Critically, we are focusing on educated women from ages 18 to 30, a cohort of over 200,000 women strong, who—today—hold the future of Afghanistan in their hands.

We are able to focus on this cohort today precisely because of the investment that USAID and other investment partners have made with the Afghan government over the last decade—investments that ensure that instead of having only 9,000, all of them mostly boys in school in 2002. Today, we have more than eight million children in schools with over 30% of who are girls. These investments have resulted in over 30,000 young women finishing secondary school and more than 40,000 young women seeking to earn university degrees today.

I’ve had the chance to meet some of these young women on visits to places like the Afghan Vocational Training Institute watching them come in from around the country to develop marketable skills so they can triple or quadruple their earning potential upon graduation. We know today that nearly 80% of Afghan women have access to connectivity through mobile phones, something that simply didn’t exist over a decade ago. So it’s in this context that we seek the promote these women to the next level of leadership in coordination with our Afghan partners. We will start a scholarship fund that we hope will last for generations—opening doors of opportunity for talented young leaders across the country.

We’re reserving 80 percent of these scholarships for Afghan universities—helping to encourage Afghanistan’s most talented women stay in the country and serve their communities. We will establish the Institute for Gender and Development Studies with a technology program to help institutionalize a focus on women’s empowerment throughout Afghanistan’s policymaking apparatus.

To promote women in the economy, we will continue to work with local banks, financial institutions, and investment funds to drive resources to more than 3,500 women-owned businesses by the end of the program period.

To promote women in civil society, we will invest in women’s rights groups and coalitions of civil society leaders that come together to insure that government and society continue to promote basic human rights for women and continue to enforce laws that do the same.

As part of this effort, we will ensure that there is at least one—but ideally more—women’s organizations in power to play this role in every province throughout the country.

To promote women in government, we will work with political advocates and ministries and the civil service to advance the Afghan government’s own goal of supporting a critical mass—which means at least 30 percent—of the civil service workforce includes women.

This is compared to 20% today. So it is a more than doubling of the percentage of women in the Afghan civil service. This effort will have a special focus on ensuring that women get to reach significant leadership roles. We will provide skills, training, leadership support, and networking opportunities to ensure that women rise to decision making roles. As part of this focus, we aim to have 25,000 women nationwide receive a promotion into leadership roles in private businesses, civil society organizations, and government.

This, in fact, represents a new model for partnership for the United States. At its core, this unique, one-of-a-kind, at-scale effort is different to prior approaches to development.

In the past, we might have said we need to build a road, and you hire a contractor to build that road. Today, we know, especially in Afghanistan, we need a new model. We need a model that embraces partnership between governments, civil society, the private sector, and development partners such as USAID. It starts, in fact, with government making the right decisions.

Last year, under the Tokyo Mutual Accountability Framework, the Afghan government committed to meet specific standards critical to its own long-term success. These included credible efforts to fight corruption, important and credible actions to hold fair and openly observed elections, and specific efforts to maintain, strengthen, and enforce the legislation and law that protects the human rights of women and girls.

Earlier this month, we backed-up the Tokyo Mutual Accountability commitments by making that more than $175 million dollars of support contingent on these specific goals being achieved. But we know that this partnership also needs to include all development partners and not just the United States. That is why we seek a matching effort where we will seek to raise resources from our development partners that work in Afghanistan and achieve a one-to-one match to stretch the value of American taxpayer dollars that are spent toward achieving these important objects.

Increasing, we believe our partners see the gains that we have witnessed ourselves. We talked about primary school. In eastern Afghanistan, we have helped establish its first school since 2007. When a father prevented his daughter from attending that school, the schools counsel visited that family and convinced him to change his mind. We know, and our broad development partnership also appreciate, that these examples of deep community engagement on behave of women and girls is critical to success.

No matter what our level of investment in Afghanistan’s development is going to be in the future, this program is designed to be a partnership with those partners. However, the partnership cannot end there.

Our efforts to reach 35,000 women owned businesses will naturally bring in and crowd in significant investment so that those businesses can grow and flourish. Our efforts to ensure that each province has a rich presence of civil society groups while ensure that civil society is also part of the promote effort.

Many people ask me and others what will happen to Afghanistan when we complete a military transition. The answer is it depends. This is a critical moment for Afghanistan and for our partnership in the region.

While the eyes of the entire world may be on the troops that are drawing down, the eyes of those in this room and the efforts of USAID, and develop partners across the world must remain absolutely focused on the tremendous potential of the women and girls that have been nurtured as the future of this country.

It is precisely now when these types of investments matter the most. Today we see new opportunities for development to serve as the signature expression of our nation’s leadership, values, and engagement in Afghanistan and in other parts of the world. Because we know that stability in Afghanistan fundamentally depends on human progress we are taking steps to make sure that our efforts are sustainable, well-run, accountable, and deliver real results. It is in reflection of the uniqueness of this moment that we designed this long-term investment to crowd in real resources from all parts of society and give expression and opportunity to the basic premise that no society can succeed without the full active engaged participation of all members of that society.

U.S. Institute of Peace Washington, DC

Last updated: June 16, 2015

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