Around 30 entrepreneurs participate in an exhibition in November 2015 after receiving training in business development from UNDP. Photo © UNDP Afghanistan / Sayed Omer / 2015
Afghan women have gained improved access to public services and the public sphere following the harsh years of Taliban rule. Some 46 percent of girls now attend primary school and there are more women working in schools, hospitals and government offices, including the country’s first female Governor and Provincial Council Chair.
Huge challenges remain, however, with respect to women’s mobility, participation in public life, decision making, health and access to economic and educational opportunities.
Although nearly half of all women participate in the labour force, almost all are in vulnerable employment. They are often forced to stay at home and work on activities like carpet weaving, sewing and farming. Only 5 percent of businesses are owned by women, only 12 percent of women can read and write, and almost 90 percent have experienced physical, sexual or psychological violence or forced marriage.
Incidents of violence against women remain under reported due to social norms and religious beliefs. Victims fear social stigma and exclusion and can face threats of further violence for reporting cases.
Sometimes, police and prosecutors do not follow legal procedures and refer cases, including serious crimes, to traditional assemblies (such as jirgas and shuras) for advice or resolution. These often reinforce harmful practices. For example, a court may sentence a rapist to imprisonment but a jirga or shura may decide the rapist should marry the victim.
Afghanistan’s first-ever female rangers head out to work in Band-e-Amir National Park. On a typical day, they collect data on endangered animals and protect the park from poachers, overgrazing and the excesses of tourism. Photo © UNDP / Rob Few / 2015
The Gender Equality Project II (GEP-II) focuses on improving policies and legal documents, boosting economic empowerment and ensuring access to justice and human rights.
Based in the Ministry of Women’s Affairs (MoWA), we provide policy support and capacity building for MoWA officials to oversee implementation of the National Action Plan for the Women of Afghanistan, review the polices of other ministries and ensure that ministry budgets are gender responsive.
GEP II establishes models for cooperation and coordination among key government, NGO and civil society partners to bring about gender mainstreaming and strengthen the position of women. For example, we led the development of Afghanistan’s first-ever master’s programme on gender and women’s studies, which was established at Kabul University in November.
We create women entrepreneurs by providing training on how to set up, operate and market a business, including study visits to successful businesses in other provinces and neighbouring countries. We also provide the raw materials needed to get started and help to establish distribution networks. In our production and demonstration centers, women come together as cooperatives to produce, package and sell a variety of products.
The project provides logistical and financial support, along with training to Women Assistance Centres in five provinces. These offer mediation services in cases of violence against women, as well as property and inheritance disputes, or refer cases to the appropriate authority.
We also train religious leaders on women’s rights issues so they can preach to communities in their Friday sermons, for example, that women and girls should be allowed to go to school and make their own decisions.