Office of the Senior Coordinator for International Women's Issues
January 3, 2006
U.S. Commitment to Women in Afghanistan
The struggle for women's rights is a story of ordinary women doing extraordinary things. And today, the women of Afghanistan are writing a new chapter in their history.
--First Lady Laura Bush, March 12, 2004
Constitutional Loya Jirga and Elections. An Afghan Constitutional Loya Jirga, or Council, approved a new constitution on January 4, 2004 in Kabul. The new constitution affords all citizens of Afghanistan equal rights and duties before the law. The new constitution also reserves 25% of its seats in the lower house and 17% in the upper house of Parliament for women. Of the 500 members at the Constitutional Loya Jirga, 102 were women. Two of the nine members of the Constitutional Drafting Committee and seven of the 35 members of the Constitutional Review Commission were women. More than 200 women participated in the 2002 Emergency Loya Jirga that established the transitional government. Women comprised over 41% of the 10.5 million registered voters for the October 2004 presidential elections, which included a woman candidate. Millions of Afghans, men and women, voted on October 9, 2004 in Afghanistan’s first presidential election. In the cities where U.S.-supported women’s radio stations operate, the number of women who registered to vote was considerably higher than the national average. The September 18, 2005 elections for provincial councils and the Wolesi Jirga, or lower house of Parliament, were stunning with more than 52% of registered voters voting (43% female). Over 300 female candidates ran for office in these elections where women are guaranteed 25% of the parliamentary seats. The results exceeded expectations, with women candidates filling all of the 68 seats they had been allocated plus an additional 17, who won on their own.
Microenterprise and Microcredit Initiatives. Microenterprise training and access to microcredit help women gain self-sufficiency by starting their own businesses. Through a $10,000 donation to the U.S.-Afghan Women’s Council from Daimler-Chrysler, the Foundation for International Community Assistance (FINCA), a non-governmental organization, established two village banks in Herat. Daimler-Chrysler contributed an additional $25,000 in February 2004 to construct another five community banks to support microfinance loans for women in the province. With additional funding from the U.S. Government and other donors, FINCA expects to assist more than 30,000 clients in Afghanistan over the next 5 years. USAID’s $10 million Literacy & Community Empowerment Program (LCEP) targets rural women and their families in 200 communities. The LCEP promotes personal and community self-sufficiency through community savings and loans, enterprise training and linkages to microcredit services. Other microenterprise initiatives for women totaling more than $9 million provide skills and literacy training. These include training of 25,000 women in animal husbandry, developing skills in tailoring, and preservation of produce and dairy products for sale; technical support to women’s carpet and textile projects; and funding bakeries that employ widows and provide subsidized bread to hundreds of thousands of urban poor.
Back-to-School. Close to five million Afghan children are enrolled in school, and 40% are girls -- the highest percentage of female students in Afghanistan’s history. Since 2001, the United States has dedicated $60.5 million for primary education, to construct schools, train teachers, and provide books and supplies.
Literacy Programs. In 2005, the United States initiated two major literacy programs totaling almost $10 million, linked with skills development for healthcare workers and enterprise development. $4 million of this amount supports the establishment of the Women’s Teacher Training Institute in Kabul and its first program, the Afghan Literacy Initiative for 200 rural villages. Nine public libraries in eight provinces are participating in a campaign for women’s literacy.
Teacher Training. Since March 2002, the United States, through partners such as the University of Nebraska and Creative Associates, has worked to improve the quality of basic education. USAID has printed 27 million textbooks, provided face to face training to 6,800 teachers and radio teacher training to another 25,000 teachers, and enrolled 170,000 students (70% girls) in accelerated learning programs in 17 provinces. The University of Nebraska has printed and distributed another 15 million textbooks and supported teacher training.
Fulbright Program. After a 25-year hiatus, 17 Afghan Fulbright grantees, including five women, arrived in the United States in summer 2004 to begin study at American universities. The scholars will focus on areas that assist Afghanistan's national development, such as law, political science, public administration, economics, English-language teaching and journalism.
National Women’s Dormitory. In 2005, the U.S. rehabilitated the national Women’s Dormitory with $8.1 million, and allocated another $3 million for maintenance, management and food services over three years. These are enabling over 1,100 primarily rural women to attend one of four institutions of higher learning in Kabul.
Afghan Youth Sports Exchange. In summer of 2004, girls from Afghanistan visited the U.S. to learn soccer techniques and leadership skills so that they can organize school and city teams when they return home. The girls, who range in age from 11 to 16 years, are part of the Afghan Youth Sports Exchange -- a program whose mission is to develop Afghan youth into leaders who will bring athletics to their communities. The program hopes to create a lasting change in Afghanistan by building youth recreation programs.
The United States has financed health care programs in Afghanistan totaling more than $87 million with a primary focus on reducing one of the highest maternal and child mortality rates in the world. These programs include training women as healthcare workers, community midwives and midwives; maternal/neonatal tetanus immunizations; improving hospital care including the construction of women’s wings in hospitals and dormitories for women medical students; and the strengthening of maternal and child health, family planning, and nutrition services, particularly in rural areas. The United States has rebuilt 26 health clinics, and an additional 179 are under construction. Over 700 MOH and NGO midwives have graduated or are being trained; over 2,000 community health workers have been trained and 1,000 are currently undergoing training. The U.S. supports basic health services in 250 health clinics; each clinic averages 989 patients per month, primarily women and children, totaling 247,000 patients served monthly. Overall, the U.S. has provided basic health services to about seven million people in 13 provinces. Most of the recipients are women and children.
Office of the Senior Coordinator for International Women’s Issues