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Afghanistan is one of the hardest countries for a woman to get an education. School enrolment at the end of the Taliban regime in 2001 was a miserable 3% for girls. Even today, it is only 36%, and access to higher education is just as limited, especially in rural areas.
Gender inequality is very common in our country and gender studies are needed to deal with this.” says Professor Ghulam Farooq Abdullah, Dean of the Faculty of Social Science at Kabul University.
In 2015, Kabul University and UNDP, with financial support from the Republic of Korea, launched Afghanistan’s first-ever Master’s degree in Gender and Women’s Studies.
The course aims to be a social game-changer by producing a cadre of gender champions who will go on to fill decision-making posts in politics, education and other fields critical for the realisation of women's rights.
Kabul (AFP) - The first women settled on this stony slope outside Kabul in the 1990s hoping to escape the stigma those like them are forced to endure.
Today it is known as Afghanistan's 'hill of widows', home to a cluster of women who have eked out independence in a society that shuns and condemns them as immoral.
The rocky summit 15 kilometres south-east of the capital has gradually been swallowed by the city, becoming a distant Kabul suburb. But for its residents, it remains "Zanabad", the city of women.
The matriarch of Zanabad, Bibi ul-Zuqia, known as "Bibikoh", died in 2016. Her eldest daughter, 38-year-old Anissa Azimi, has a husband -- but in a rare step for married women in conservative Afghanistan, has taken up the matriarchal torch.
Sami Jan, a 45-year-old villager, remembers the day flash floods erupted near his fields in Balkh district, 25 kilometres northwest of Mazar-e-Sharif city in northern Afghanistan. His crops – his sole livelihood—were washed away and he was trapped in the rising water.
“I had no way to escape,” said Sami. “I would have died that same day if an army helicopter hadn’t rescued me. But my crops were ruined.”
The UN Development Programme (UNDP) today welcomed Achim Steiner as he begins a four-year term as Administrator of the Organization. Mr. Steiner’s appointment as the new head of the UN’s lead development agency was confirmed by the UN General Assembly in April this year, following his nomination by Secretary-General António Guterres.
Afghanistan is blessed with abundance of renewable energy, including hydro, solar, wind and biomass. Data show the country can annually produce nearly 320,000 megawatt of clean energy.
Last week, UNDP Country Director, Douglas Keh gave an in-depth interview to the Ariana news network about UNDP’s work in reducing poverty and bringing better lives to people in Afghanistan.
In a wide-ranging interview lasting forty minutes, Mr. Keh spoke about the major development issues in the country, including women’s rights, democratic governance, climate change, and security. He also spoke about the importance of the Sustainable Development Goals.
Malaria has always been a problem in Afghanistan, especially in the eastern and southeastern provinces. But today, due to successful malaria control programmes, incidents of the disease are at their lowest for 15 years.
In 2016, the Ministry of Public Health reported 385,000 cases of malaria from across Afghanistan; nearly half of these are being treated. With 300,000 rapid malaria testing kits delivered to rural health clinics throughout Afghanistan, community health workers can now prick a villager’s finger and get an accurate blood test in just 30 minutes. UNDP and the Global Fund have trained 26,000 community health workers throughout the country in testing malaria and provided medicine for recurrent and severe malaria.
In March this year, representatives from the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), together with officials from the Afghan Ministry of Rural Rehabilitation and Development (MRRD), and UNDP specialists from Afghanistan and Tajikistan, visited Kyrgyzstan and Japan to see One Village One Product (OVOP) projects in action, and to meet with beneficiaries.
Last week, Haoliang Xu, UNDP Director for Asia-Pacific, and Douglas Keh, UNDP Afghanistan Country Director, spoke with the Chinese Global TV Network (CGTN) about how UNDP can facilitate the implementation of the Belt and Road Initiative and create synergies for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals in Afghanistan and the region.
Masooma Muradi is Afghanistan’s only female governor. In her two years as Governor of Daikundi, one of the poorest and most marginalized provinces in Afghanistan, she hasn’t had it easy. From the very beginning, she met a public backlash against her appointment as an Afghan woman to the top government position in their province.
“A woman governor will not be able to bring prosperity to our province,” Hazratullah, a male shopkeeper in the town of Nili, told a UNDP delegation visiting the province just last year.
Tuberculosis is one of the major public health issues in Afghanistan. If TB is misdiagnosed and treated irregularly with antibiotics, it develops into multidrug resistant tuberculosis. This is a severe type of the disease that is highly contagious and poses a serious public health risk.
Currently, there is only one hospital in Kabul that can treat this type of TB.
But there will soon be a rise in diagnosis and treatment of the multi-drug-resistance TB with new hospitals that will soon open in Jalalabad, Herat and Mazar-e-Sharif. Each of these 24-bed hospitals, built with UNDP and the Global Fund support, will have the capacity to treat 200 patients at a time. It takes two years to treat this deadly disease, but patients need to be hospitalized for the first six months.
Khurshid, a leading Afghan entertainment TV channel, dedicated its famous Haft Ganj game show to marking Women’s Day.
On the show, two young women were chosen to answer questions about prominent Afghan women figures, achievements women have had in the past 15 years and challenges they currently face in different walks of life.
Despite a tough 45-minute game, the contestants made it to the end and won a prize of 100,000 Afghanis.
Khushid TV and UNDP jointly prepared this show as an effort to empower women and raise awareness about women’s rights among young people. The Haft Ganj show reaches more than a million audience every week.
If you have missed the show, watch it here. Feel free to share it with your friends and colleagues.
On March 12, representatives from UNDP, the Australian Government and the Ministry of Rural Rehabilitation and Development (MRRD) visited AliceGhan township, located 30 kilometers north of Kabul, where, with the help of Australian funding, UNDP has built latrines, kitchens, boundary walls and storage rooms in 300 houses of internally displaced people. One of the residents, Ahmad, says, “We needed a boundary wall to keep our children safe from strangers and wild animals.” The construction work provided over 55,000 labor days over five months.
A commuter bus that had broken down has also been put back into action: this means that AliceGhan residents, most of whom are very poor, can travel to Kabul and back every day. The Aliceghan town assembly now oversees maintenance of the bus, resolves issues within the community, and manages a women’s tailoring and embroidery training programme. Since 2016, this programme has trained 136 women in tailoring and embroidery and they now earn a decent income so they can buy food, clothes, and put their children through school.
On March 12, the United Nations organized a series of exciting events that brought together hundreds of staff working at its premises in Kabul, in a celebration to mark International Women’s Day.
The UN Gender Working Group and Communications group together took the lead on the initiative, Deputy Representative of the Secretary General to Afghanistan, launched the celebration with a speech highlighting the UN’s commitment to gender equality and empowering women in urban and rural Afghanistan. She then officially inaugurated a dedicated women’s space at the UN compound that will offer a safe and relaxed environment for women to congregate.
March 08, 2017 – Muzhgan Sadaat, 23, is a soft-spoken young woman who comes across as happy-go-lucky. But when it comes to following her passion, she won’t surrender to anybody.
Muzhgan was ten when she started to play volleyball, but as she grew older, her father thought it wasn’t appropriate for her to continue. “He said our relatives didn’t like it,” recalls Muzhgan. “They believed it was shameful for a girl to play sports.”
12 February 2017, Kabul, Afghanistan – For 24-year-old Nabila, becoming a police officer was not only a childhood dream but a sacred duty. This was something she felt she had to do after witnessing the suffering of women in her community.
But it was not an easy decision for the mother of a 6-year-old in a town where only two women had ever been brave enough to join the police force. She had to go up against neighbors who said women police were “despicable” and “corrupting the minds of other girls”.
“The main reason I wanted to become a policewoman is because in Afghanistan women suffer a lot and cannot defend their rights,” said Nabila adding that only women can really understand the problems of other women.
Daikundi, 05 Feb 2017 — Nili, the capital city of Daikundi province has always had a market, but no one used it much because it was filthy and difficult to reach. The people requested something be done and so the Government of Afghanistan and UNDP provided roads, toilets, drinking water and a landfill site for waste. Now people can get to the market, spend a longer time there, and the whole place is cleaner and healthier. This not only improves people’s daily quality of life, but also boosts the economy.
Jawzari is an area of great beauty and environmental significance in Bamyan province.
But it is threatened by floods and avalanches.
Since 2013, UNDP has helped local communities plant trees and set up nurseries, which protect against floods and provide new sources of income.
We have also taught villagers and schoolchildren how to restore damaged pastureland and graze animals in a way that does not destroy the environment.
Gulsoom Kohistani was born in Iran and in her early teens when her family decided to return to Afghanistan after two decades of exile.
Along with hundreds of other families, Gulsoom’s family settled in Aliabad – a township 20 kilometers northeast of Balkh’s Mazar-e-Sharif. For most of them, the ongoing insurgency meant it was too dangerous to return to their original homes. They had to start new lives from scratch.
For the first few years, Gulsoom and her neighbors wove carpets. But the work was hard and the income small. So UNDP provided equipment and training for 47 of the women to set up a small business producing pickles, spices, jams and spaghetti.
Everyone in Afghanistan loves flying kits – so what better way to get people talking about development than by holding a development-themed kite festival?
Last month, UNDP set out with 500 kites to the top of Kabul’s Wazir Akbar Khan hill, and we invited all of Kabul to join us. Around 600 local people came along – men, women and children – to spend a day in sunshine flying kites decorated with the logos of the Sustainable Development Goals.
UNDP and the Afghan Red Crescent Society organized a volleyball tournament for young women at Kabul University this month - part of the global 16 Days of Activism campaign against gender violence.
Women and girls are often denied the chance to play sport in Afghanistan, but taking away these opportunities is just another form of violence. Events like this help to overcome social taboos so that everyone one can live life to the full.
1 December 2016, Kabul – Edris is a young man living in Kabul. Last year, he broke his nose trying to break up a fight, but when he went to hospital, doctors found out he had HIV and refused to treat him.
“It really disappointed me,” he says. “Not just the bad treatment, but because I know that other people with HIV also run into the same kind of discrimination.”
Edris knows this because he’s seen it. Just four months before, one of his friends died of appendicitis because doctors weren’t willing to operate.
Jalalabad, November 2016 – On a scorching July afternoon several years ago, a farmer rushed into a laboratory in downtown Jalalabad with his two-year-old son, Sabawoon, fainting in his arms. “I’m here to test him for malaria!” he blurted out.
Sabawoon had already been sick for two months in his rural village, but no one knew what was wrong. Even though Afghanistan has the fourth-largest malaria burden outside of sub-Saharan Africa, diagnostic facilities were extremely limited. This laboratory in Jalalabad was the only place in the whole province with a track record of diagnosing the most severe form of malaria. Just one sharp-eyed technician and his ageing microscope meant the difference between diagnosis and disaster.
When Sabawoon’s doctors got the result – positive for a severe strain of malaria – they were strangely relieved, because now they knew what to do. With the right treatment, Sabawoon was soon out of a coma and recovered within a week.
Masooma and her friends in Bamyan started skiing in 2012. But village gossip made it hard for them to continue.
Then local mullah, Abdul Rahman Redwani, started preaching on women’s rights, changing people’s minds and getting the girls back on the slopes.
Watch the video to see how this UNDP programme is helping young women make the most of their lives.
23 October 2016, Jalalabad City, Nangarhar – In a very ordinary hostel in Jalalabad, something extraordinary is going on. A young woman is sitting on her hostel bed, bent over a textbook.
This is Abida and she is training to be a nurse in a country where most women haven’t even finished primary school.
Abida has just finished a long day of classwork and on-the-job training. She’s exhausted, but determined to carry on because nurses are hard to find in her home village, more than 100 kilometres away in Nuristan. In this isolated province, woman commonly die because basic healthcare is unavailable – either because there are no doctors or because women are not allowed to be treated by a man. Thinking about this situation keeps Abida going when her eyes are heavy and her brain numb.
Human security remains Afghanistan’s major challenge to development. However, Afghans are more optimistic about their future than in the past. You can see that optimism in our bustling, energetic cities.
UNDP supports the people of Afghanistan as they face old challenges and work to achieve the new Sustainable Development Goals by 2030.
See these 17 inspiring ways Afghans are improving their cities and contributing to the SDGs, with a little help from UNDP.
Afghanistan is one of the most vulnerable countries for climate change; even here, in beautiful, mountainous Panjshir province.
The Panjshir valley starts about 2 hours’ drive from Kabul and winds north into the Hindu Kush. Isolated and poor, its 140,000 people, mostly farmers, get by on a string of small-scale farms by the side of the river or hacked into the mountainsides. Their lives have always been hard, but they are made even more difficult by desertification and regular floods.
Bamyan, 9 October 2016 – Bamyan, in central Afghanistan, is a province of snow-capped mountains and difficult travel. But it’s not just the rugged terrain that keeps girls from going to school and taking part in sports. The mind also has mountains that girls need to climb if they want to get equal treatment.
“At first, the villagers were really annoying, telling me that a girl in sports clothes is against Islam and our culture,” says 18-year-old Masooma, who just wanted to go skiing. “They said, ‘Girls don’t have the right to ski – only boys can do sport. Girls are born to learn household chores, like cooking and cleaning.’”
Nangarhar University, on the outskirts of Jalalabad, is the second largest University in Afghanistan. Covering a whopping 40 hectares of land and serving 15,000 students, its tree-lined avenues stretch on for miles. But at night, they are pitch black, leaving both students and professors feeling unsafe in the dark. Public spaces are empty and no one spends much time outside.
Our focus is helping Afghanistan build and share solutions to the challenges of: