SUPPORT FOR GENDER EQUALITY IN AFGHANISTAN

Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction

Lessons Learned Program

February 2021

SUPPORT FOR GENDER EQUALITY:LESSONS FROM THE U.S. EXPERIENCE IN AFGHANISTANINTERACTIVE SUMMARY

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OVERVIEW

Afghan women and girls have made substantial gains over the past nearly two decades—especially in access to health care and education, and greater presence in public life. Yet Afghanistan remains one of the most challenging places in the world to be a woman—with high maternal mortality ratios, endemic gender-based violence, and still-limited access to education and health care.

U.S. efforts since 2002 to support women, girls, and gender equality in Afghanistan have yielded mixed results. There is broad demand among Afghans for health and education services, and U.S. agencies have responded with well-designed and effective programs. Yet SIGAR’s examination of 24 U.S. gender-related programs also revealed shortcomings. Some programs were designed based on assumptions that proved to be ill-suited to the Afghan context and the challenges that women and girls faced.

This report, the ninth Lessons Learned Program report to be issued by SIGAR, seeks to answer how the United States can best continue to support Afghan women and girls, preserving and expanding on the gains they have made. Woven throughout the report are “Afghan Voices” – insights from a body of 65 interviews conducted with Afghans in 2020, commissioned by SIGAR. Many interviewees voiced praise for U.S. efforts to expand gender equality, but they also cited insecurity, restrictive social norms, and harassment as key constraints to women’s mobility and work.

INTRODUCTION

The story of women in Afghanistan is more complex than the simplistic portrait often painted by Western media: passive victims forced to wear burqas. To effectively support Afghan women and girls and advance gender equality, donors must understand the diverse experiences of Afghan women and girls, in the context of the culture and history that shape gender roles and relations in the country. Afghanistan remains a largely agrarian and impoverished country whose traditional, patriarchal society has historically accorded women subordinate status. Reform efforts date back to the late 19th century, and have met greatest resistance in rural areas. Since 2001, Afghanistan’s gender norms have been buffeted by many viable drivers of change, including economic growth, exposure to new ideas through a boom in media and mobile phone use, the presence of foreigners, as well as legal, programmatic, and activist efforts to push for change.

Gender equality means . . . expanding freedoms and improving overall quality of life so that equality is achieved without sacrificing gains for males or females.

United States Agency for International Development’s (USAID) Gender Equality and Female Empowerment Policy

Key Findings

  • Afghanistan’s restrictive social and cultural norms toward women—who symbolize honor of the family and the nation—predate and transcend the Taliban. The country also remains largely agrarian and has not undergone the development and urbanization that have historically led to greater gender equality in many other countries.

The difference in challenges between women in urban areas and women in rural areas are as long as the gap between the earth and sky. In urban areas, women . . . know about their rights. However, in rural areas, women work very hard, they carry water on their heads, they harvest the wheat, they take care of livestock and do all the physical tasks. They have less value in their homes, they have no rights in decision-making.

Male member of the provincial council, Bamyan Province, SIGAR-commissioned interview, August 17, 2020

Islam doesn’t prevent women from studying and working, but sometimes the poor culture and tradition are some of the biggest challenges in Afghanistan. . . . People still prefer the patriarchy.

Male member of a civil society organization, Bamyan Province, SIGAR-commissioned interview, August 12, 2020

In rural areas, when women wear good clothes and go to school, people laugh at them and term them as foreigners. But . . . in urban areas, people value education and that’s why they value and respect educated women.

Female member of the provincial council, Khost Province, SIGAR-commissioned interview, September 10, 2020

The War’s Impact on Women

Improvements in the lives of Afghan women and girls have occurred alongside, and in many cases in spite of, the misery wrought by the last two decades of war. Violence continues to be one of the biggest challenges facing Afghan women, both directly and indirectly. In a country with one of the highest maternal mortality ratios in the world, insecurity has made routine medical care difficult or impossible to get. The same insecurity has made it impossible for large numbers of Afghan children—especially girls—to attend school. High civilian casualties drive a strong desire among ordinary Afghans—especially women—for an end to the conflict.

Source: SIGAR Analysis of UNAMA civilian casualty data. UNAMA, “Afghanistan: Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict Annual Report 2018,” February 2019, pp. 11–12; UNAMA, “Afghanistan: Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict 2019,” February 2020, pp. 5, 9.

Note: According to UNAMA, reports using a consistent methodology have been maintained since 2009.

While civilian casualties have declined modestly since hitting a peak in 2016, and declined more in the first half of 2020, overall they are still nearly double what they were in 2009. According to the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), in 2019, 12 percent of civilian casualties were women, and children represented 30 percent.

Security is the biggest challenge women face in our community because due to insecurity women cannot move around, or work outside of their homes.

Female resident, Jawjan Province, SIGAR-commissioned interview, September 10, 2020

Both sides are dumb; they don’t know with their war what problems they create for people, and poor people are involved for nothing.

Female resident, Badakhshan Province, SIGAR-commissioned interview, September 10, 2020

U.S. Strategy and Policy

Since 2001, the Congress and three administrations have brought significant political attention to bear on Afghan women’s status and rights—including the Bush administration’s rhetoric suggesting that the Taliban’s oppression of women was one justification for U.S. military action against the Taliban. This attention, a reflection of both genuine concern and U.S. political agendas, has influenced U.S. assistance to support Afghan women and girls. Moreover, the success or failure of efforts to advance and protect women’s rights has become an important measure by which policymakers judge the reconstruction effort. This chapter assesses how the United States planned to advance the status and rights of Afghan women and girls, and how this strategy evolved over time.

Although advancing women’s status and rights was not a reason for the U.S. military intervention in Afghanistan, improving the lives of Afghan women and girls was one important goal of the U.S. reconstruction effort.

By their [the U.S.] presence, we dare to get out of the house and work. If they are not here, we don’t know what will happen to women.

Female member of the Afghan Parliament, Nangarhar Province, SIGAR-commissioned interview, September 1, 2020

I believe if the U.S. leaves Afghanistan, it will be better for people as a whole, as the only reason for war is the presence of the U.S. in Afghanistan. They are the reason people keep fighting and the reason men are always suspicious and worried about women. I also believe only we can solve our problems ourselves; we can’t ask the U.S. to solve the issues of Afghans.

Female participant of a USAID-funded program, Kandahar Province, SIGAR-commissioned interview, August 16, 2020

There is no doubt that [the U.S. civilian presence has] carried out many development projects that had positive effects on Afghan men and women. But those effects and benefits were not enjoyed by everyone due to the corruption of our own Afghans on those projects.

Male member of the provincial council, Uruzgan Province, SIGAR-commissioned interview, August 16, 2020

Overview of U.S. Programming and Mainstreaming Efforts

This chapter offers an overview of the Department of State (State), United States Agency for International Development (USAID), and Department of Defense (DOD) programming intended to improve the lives of Afghan women and girls from 2002 to 2020, as well as an assessment of USAID’s and State’s gender mainstreaming approach. In pursuit of greater gender equality in Afghanistan, the U.S. and Afghan governments adopted an approach known as gender mainstreaming, in which the design and implementation of development programs are required to be sensitive to gender norms and disparities. In theory, mainstreaming encourages donors to evaluate the potential effects of any development policy or program to make sure that those efforts do not inadvertently exacerbate existing inequalities. In practice, short rotations of staff and limited expertise lessened the impact that gender mainstreaming might have had.

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State and USAID have not consistently tracked or quantified the amount of money disbursed for projects which directly or indirectly support Afghan women, girls, or gender equality goals. Therefore, the full extent of U.S. programming to support Afghan women and girls is not quantifiable.

Health Care

Senior U.S. government leaders, practitioners, and researchers alike frequently cite improvements in women’s access to health care as one of the most significant accomplishments of post-2001 efforts to improve the lives of Afghan women and girls. The life expectancy of Afghan women has risen from 58 in 2002 to 66 in 2018. Maternal health in particular has been a primary focus of the United States and international donors. This chapter provides an overview of post-2001 gains in women’s health, as well as a summary of barriers that continue to impede progress. The chapter then more closely examines four programs representative of U.S. efforts to improve maternal health.

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There are evident gains in a number of indicators related to maternal health:

    • Prenatal care coverage rose from 16 percent of pregnant women in 2002 to 61 percent in 2015.
    • Postnatal care coverage increased from an average of 28 percent between 2005 and 2010 to 40 percent in 2015.
    • The number of trained midwives rose from 467 in 2002 to roughly 4,000 in 2018.
    • The number of health facilities staffed with at least one female health worker rose from 25 percent in 2002 to 92 percent in 2017.

They want their girls to visit a female doctor instead of male doctors, but when they fall sick they do not have any female doctor to treat them.

Female resident, Kandahar Province, SIGAR-commissioned interview, August 16, 2020

If [donors] cannot do anything else, at least they can help with maternity care for women.

Female resident, Kabul Province, SIGAR-commissioned interview, August 25, 2020

We can say that they [health centers] exist, but there are no services, and still there are maternal deaths of mothers and babies.

Male resident, Farah Province, SIGAR-commissioned interview, September 12, 2020

Education

The Afghan government and its international partners have made significant progress in getting more children, especially more girls, into school. Over the last two decades, there have been increases in the number of schools, the number of girls in attendance, the number of female teachers, and literacy rates for female youth. Yet serious obstacles remain, and they are often worse in rural areas. These include traditional gender norms which do not encourage girls’ education past primary school, poor school infrastructure, a lack of female teachers, and insecurity—all of which keep large numbers of girls from attending school. Community-based education, an alternative learning program based on the idea of bringing teachers to students instead of bringing students to a school building, is a promising alternative that has opened up opportunities for girls’ education.

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School Enrollment by Gender

Data Table

Key Findings

  • There were few, if any, girls in school or female teachers under the Taliban regime. Today, as many as 3.5 million girls (out of about 9 million students) are enrolled in school, though this number is likely a high estimate. As of 2018, approximately 70,000 women were in teaching jobs, representing roughly one-third of the nation’s teachers.

If . . . more families allow their girls to go to school, then more women will have greater awareness of their rights and more motivation to do things that are not just in the household, like being a wife and mother.

Female participant of USAID-funded program, Kandahar Province, SIGAR-commissioned interview, August 16, 2020

There are some bright-minded men in Afghanistan who want to see women educated, but on the other hand a majority of men are influenced by the propaganda of others.

Female participant of USAID-funded program, Kunar Province, SIGAR-commissioned interview, August 16, 2020

If the Taliban comes into power, I see no difference between urban and rural women; we will both have the same challenges.

Female member of the provincial council, Kunduz Province, SIGAR-commissioned interview, August 19, 2020

Political Participation

Women’s participation in the parliament and civil society has significantly increased since 2001. With support from the international donors, Afghan women have pushed for and won seats in the parliament. They have also consistently voted in significant numbers in national elections and have aggressively advocated for women’s protection individually or as part of civil society organizations and coalitions. However, women politicians and civil society leaders continue to have limited influence on policy and face disproportionate intimidation and violence on a daily basis.

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Key Findings

  • Women’s participation in the Afghan Parliament and provincial and district councils has significantly increased since 2001, with 27 percent of parliamentary seats and 25 percent of provincial and district council seats reserved for women. Women comprise almost 50 percent of elected community development council members.

In democratic systems, the contribution of women is necessary and important, especially on behalf of those areas where there are many vulnerable women. The female members of parliament can make vulnerable women bold enough to make an effort towards their development and improvement of their lives.

Male member of the Afghan Parliament, Kunar Province, SIGAR-commissioned interview, September 3, 2020

When we have meetings and both men and women raise their hands and show their cards, the respect that is given to men is not given to women. The time which is given to men is not given to women. When a woman speaks, she is not allowed to speak more than three minutes, but a man is allowed to speak more than 15 minutes.

Female member of the Afghan Parliament, Nangarhar Province, SIGAR-commissioned interview, September 1, 2020

Access to Justice

Though the Afghan government has passed important laws designed to increase women’s access to justice and combat gender-based violence, a complex web of political, institutional, cultural, and legal barriers continues to stymie progress. Yet increases in women’s employment throughout the justice sector since 2001 shows that women are making inroads into a system historically dominated by men. These gains, limited as they are, reflect what is possible and serve as reminders of the difficult work that remains.

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Key Findings

  • On paper, Afghanistan’s legal framework offers women and girls many protections. In reality, enforcement of these laws has been minimal.

Men are causing such violence because they do not have awareness, so there has to be awareness programs for such men, especially in rural areas to become aware of women’s rights.

Female resident, Kunar Province, SIGAR-commissioned interview, August 13, 2020

Men do not let women . . . defend their rights. Women are not allowed to have opinions in the household and when they do, they have trouble with their husbands and sometimes their other family members.

Female resident, Kunar Province, SIGAR-commissioned interview, August 13, 2020

Economic Participation

Women have made modest gains in economic participation, especially in owning and running microbusinesses and obtaining secure jobs in urban areas. But gender disparity has remained one of the most persistent features of the Afghan labor force. National household surveys and in-depth analyses of women’s economic participation have all underscored the disadvantages Afghan women face in the labor force.

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Women have made modest gains in economic participation, especially in obtaining secure jobs in urban areas and in owning and running small businesses. Women’s share of secure jobs in urban areas increased from 27 percent to 42 percent between 2007 and 2017. However, women overall continue to be less secure in their jobs than men, work fewer hours, and earn less income.

If a woman wants to work, first she will face challenges and disagreement at home. When she convinces her family members after arguing with them for several days, then she will have to face opposition from the community’s members, religious leaders, and local elders. There are always going to be people in the community who don’t think working or being outside of the house is a good thing for women. This is a man’s world, and we have to fight to be in it.

Female participant of a USAID-funded program, Kunar Province, SIGAR-commissioned interview, August 13, 2020

When men go to work, no one harasses them or says bad words to them. On the other hand . . . when a girl goes to school, people call her bad names. Men can get access to everywhere at any time but women cannot do whatever they want, like going to the doctor.

Male resident, Kandahar Province, SIGAR-commissioned interview, September 1, 2020

Women’s Participation in the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces

The meaningful inclusion of women in the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF) is a practical necessity in Afghanistan. Because Afghan culture and tradition preclude the free interaction of men and women, male soldiers and police are unable to effectively interact with nearly half of the population—including female suspects, women at airports or national borders, and female victims of domestic violence. A lack of female police officers and soldiers hamstrings key security objectives, including combating the high rates of sexual abuse and domestic violence throughout the country. Yet women serving in the security forces often face a daunting array of problems: social stigma, discrimination from male colleagues, resistance from the communities where they work, and harassment and abuse from their male colleagues.

  • Initial Afghan goals for the recruitment and retention of women in the ANDSF, which U.S. efforts sought to help the Afghan government achieve, were highly unrealistic. These targets have been adjusted over the years to provide more realistic goals, based on recruitment trends and capacity.

If you want to help and increase women’s participation in the military or police . . . you have to offer incentives, build trust, and assure their families of their safety and security first.

Mina Sherzoy, former director of Promote’s Women in Government program

Future Threats and Opportunities

Afghan women and girls have made important gains in some sectors since 2001 and limited progress in others. Today, facing the withdrawal of international forces and the prospect of a peace agreement that would bring the Taliban closer to power, Afghan women have reason to question whether these hard-won achievements will be protected. This chapter discusses current political, security, and economic challenges that threaten to undermine or undo women’s gains of the past 19 years—including peace negotiations, the drawdown of U.S. troops, and the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. It also explores women’s participation in peace negotiations, opportunities for preserving and building on post-2001 gains, as well as Taliban practices toward women today, and what these indicate about how the Taliban might govern if they are integrated into the Afghan government.

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  • Foreign troop reductions, reduced donor funding, ongoing Afghan peace negotiations, the possibility of a future Afghan government that includes the Taliban, the COVID-19 pandemic, and the worst-case scenario of state collapse raise questions about whether the fragile gains made by women and girls since 2001 will be preserved and expanded.

We are worried because whatever happens, it is behind closed doors . . . [we] don’t know if they can defend women’s rights or not.

Female member of the Afghan government, Nangarhar Province, SIGAR-commissioned interview, September 1, 2020

I hope that [the Taliban has] changed because they are living luxurious lives in Qatar and have enrolled their own women in schools there as well. So they will want the same for Afghan women.

Male member of the community development council, Nangarhar Province, SIGAR-commissioned interview, August 12, 2020

Every group has good and bad among them, and the Taliban is the same. We are afraid of both sides.

Female member of provincial council, Balkh Province, SIGAR-commissioned interview, August 18, 2020

“[The Taliban] are collecting taxes for electricity, transportation, farmers, and customs. Day [by] day, they become more powerful.

Female member of the provincial council, Kunduz Province, SIGAR-commissioned interview, August 19, 2020

For women, [the COVID-19 pandemic] brought many negative changes because all people sat at their homes due to closure of offices and businesses. This paved the way for domestic violence against women.

Female participant of a USAID-funded program, Kunar Province, SIGAR-commissioned interview, August 13, 20201 Afghan women and girls have achieved significant gains since 2001:

    • Health: The maternal mortality ratio—the number of women who die due to birth- or pregnancy-related complications—has declined, with estimates of the decline ranging from 19 percent to 50 percent. This reflects a number of healthcare improvements. Between 2002 and 2015, the percentage of pregnant women receiving prenatal care by skilled health personnel rose from 16 percent to 61 percent; between 2002 and 2018, the number of trained midwives grew from an estimated 467 to 4,000, and the share of births attended by skilled health personnel went from 14 percent to nearly 60 percent. Between 2002 and 2017, the proportion of health facilities staffed with at least one female health worker rose from 25 percent to 92 percent. (A caveat is that the methodologies used to generate maternal mortality data have varied over time, and the reliability of some data has been questioned. Thus, while a decline in maternal deaths has likely occurred, a precise measurement of the reduction remains elusive.)
    • Education: As many as 3.5 million girls (roughly 40 percent of about 9 million students overall) are enrolled in school, though the number of girls actually attending school is almost certainly lower. Still, even a low estimate reflects a marked improvement over the few, if any, girls who attended public school under the Taliban. By 2018, there were approximately 70,000 women in teaching jobs, representing about one-third of the country’s teachers. There has been an expansion of community-based education, helping to close the enrollment gap between girls and boys. Literacy rates among girls have risen from 20 percent in 2005 to 39 percent in 2017. Overall support among the Afghan population for women’s and girls’ access to education has remained high since at least 2006.
    • Political participation: Unprecedented numbers of women now hold public office. Thanks to a constitutional amendment strongly supported by the United States and other donors, 27 percent of all parliament seats are reserved for women. By law, 25 percent of seats in provincial and district councils are now reserved for women. Nearly half of the 9,708 elected community development council members across the country are women. Women serve as ministers, deputy ministers, and ambassadors, and comprise about 28 percent of employees in civil society organizations. These figures represent the efforts of thousands of women, from the village to the national level. Women’s presence in the media also increased significantly since 2001.
    • Access to justice: Afghanistan has a legal framework for advancing access to justice for women and girls, including constitutional protections for equal rights for men and women, and the Elimination of Violence Against Women Law, promulgated by presidential decree in 2009. The number of women serving in the police rose from 180 in 2005 to 3,650 in 2019. Specialized Family Response Units enable more women to file complaints with the police. From 2007 to 2018, the proportion of judges who are women grew from 5 percent to 13 percent (from 73 to 261 women).
    • Economic participation: There are more women-run businesses and more women employed in urban areas than there were 20 years ago. Women’s share of secure jobs in urban areas increased from 27 percent to 42 percent between 2007 and 2017—one of the few labor force indicators where women had greater gains than men. From 2007 to 2019, the share of women in civil service jobs, excluding the army and police, rose from 18 percent to 25 percent. Women held 15 percent of government decision-making positions in 2018, up from 10 percent in 2013.
  1. 2 The positive story of gains across these sectors is tempered by the reality that significant barriers—including restrictive sociocultural norms and insecurity— continue to impede progress for Afghan women and girls.
  2. 3 Although advancing women’s status and rights was not a reason for the U.S. military intervention in Afghanistan, improving the lives of Afghan women and girls was one important goal of the U.S. reconstruction effort.
  3. 4 The high-level U.S. political focus on gender issues in Afghanistan translated into congressional and executive branch agency support for significant funding for efforts targeting women and girls. At the same time, that political focus may also have reduced the scrutiny accorded to the design of some gender programs.
  4. 5 The United States has disbursed at least $787.4 million for programs specifically and primarily to support Afghan women and girls from 2002 to 2020, but the total amount of U.S. investments to improve the lives of women and girls is not quantifiable because hundreds of other programs and projects included an unquantifiable gender component.
  5. 6 USAID was unable to field the resources and expertise needed to effectively integrate gender-related objectives across programming in Afghanistan.
  6. 7 Community-based education has proven effective as a reliable, culturally accepted model for delivering primary education in areas where the formal education system does not operate, and especially in closing the enrollment and achievement gap between girls and boys.
  7. 8 The U.S. government’s funding to civil society organizations contributed to an increase in the number of women advocates and organizations focusing on women’s rights. However, many of these organizations are unsustainable without continued assistance.
  8. 9 The United States has provided significant support to recruitment and retention targets set by the Afghan government for women’s participation in the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces, but these targets have been highly unrealistic and unachievable. Although there has been a modest increase in the number of women police officers, women in all parts of the security forces face threats to their personal safety and pervasive harassment and discrimination.
  9. 10 Afghan women have assumed leadership roles at the national, provincial, district, and community levels. At the same time, they face a troika of threats: continued or intensified violence, the risk of Afghan peace negotiations leading to erosions of women’s rights, and a dire economic and humanitarian situation exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
  10. 11 The kind of life Afghan women will face under any government in which the Taliban exert an influence will be a product of the Taliban’s ability—or inability—to negotiate their differences with the Afghan government and local communities, and the varying beliefs and practices within their own ranks.
  11. 12 The effort to promote women’s rights may be hampered by a growing narrative in Afghanistan that the country can either have women’s rights at the cost of peace, or peace at the cost of women’s rights.

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LESSONS

  1. Lesson 1 U.S. and international diplomatic pressure can be instrumental to advancing women’s legal rights and participation in public life—in politics, government, media, and civil society.
  2. Lesson 2 It is critical that U.S. officials working on or in Afghanistan develop a more nuanced understanding of gender roles and relations in the Afghan cultural context—and work to ensure that U.S. policies and programs are responsive to this context. U.S. agencies also need to assess how to support women and girls without provoking backlash that might endanger them or stall progress.
  3. Lesson 3 Educating Afghan men and boys about gender equality issues and working with them as partners and advocates are critical to advancing women’s status and rights in Afghanistan.
  4. Lesson 4 Key factors in improving the access of Afghan women and girls to health care and education were existing expertise and capacity within aid organizations, popular demand for these services, consistent funding, and rigorous impact evaluations of programs.
  5. Lesson 5 It is crucial that more women assume leadership positions in a wider range of Afghan government ministries, including at the cabinet level.
  6. Lesson 6 U.S. efforts to improve the lives of women and girls will continue to be constrained by significant barriers, especially insecurity and harmful sociocultural norms.
  7. Lesson 7 A further reduction in foreign aid and subsequent economic contraction could have disproportionate impact on women, especially urban women who benefited from economic expansion and donors’ support in the last two decades.
  8. Lesson 8 The United States can continue to advance gender equality in Afghanistan by advocating, along with other international partners, that women participate in the Afghan peace negotiations and that the negotiations preserve critical post-2001 gains for women and girls.

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RECOMMENDATIONS

Recommendations for the Congress

The Congress may wish to consider:

  1. 1 Ensuring that current funding levels for improving Afghan women’s and girls’ access to health care and education are preserved because these programs have demonstrated the most measurable success, there remains significant need, and the Afghan population widely supports these efforts.
  2. 2 Conditioning U.S. assistance to any future Afghan government on that government’s demonstrated commitment to protect the rights of women and girls.
  3. 3 Ensuring that the Secretary of State submits the strategy as called for in section 7044(a) of the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021, including the component to promote the welfare and rights of Afghan women and girls. As the Congress considers fiscal year 2022 foreign assistance levels for Afghanistan, it may wish to take into account what resources may be needed to implement the women’s rights component of that strategy.
  4. 4 Reassessing the requirement for the Department of Defense to spend not less than $10 million to $20 million annually on the recruitment and retention of women in the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF), and rather, prioritizing the appropriation of funds to improve working conditions and protections for women in the ANDSF.
  5. 5 Increasingly raising women’s rights and gender equality issues in engagements related to Afghanistan—during visits to the country and hearings on Afghanistan, and with international partners.

Recommendations for Executive Branch Agencies

  1. 6 The Secretary of State should continue to work with our Afghan and other international partners to support women’s rights protections in any agreement emerging from Afghan peace negotiations.
  2. 7 The Secretary of State, the USAID Administrator, and the Secretary of Defense should ensure that gender-related programs and initiatives in Afghanistan include activities that educate and engage Afghan men and boys to challenge stereotypes and reduce hostility to women’s rights and their participation in public life.
  3. 8 The Secretary of State, the USAID Administrator, and the Secretary of Defense should ensure that monitoring and evaluation systems are in place for programs and initiatives to support Afghan women and girls so that outcomes are assessed and agencies better understand the impact of programming.
  4. 9 The Secretary of State should continue to support protective shelters for women and girls fleeing abuse, and increase mentorship and support to the Afghan National Police’s Family Response Units.
  5. 10 The USAID Administrator should develop and retain staff with expertise in gender mainstreaming, to better integrate gender into the agency’s programming.
  6. 11 The USAID Administrator should prioritize expanding midwifery education programs, including community midwifery schools, in rural areas where there is a shortage of female health care providers and access to maternal care is restricted.
  7. 12 The USAID Administrator should support the Ministry of Education in training more female teachers, providing for more gender-appropriate facilities, and adequately funding and monitoring community-based education in order to meet the demand for girls’ education, especially in rural areas.
  8. 13 In the absence of sufficient Ministry of Education support for the community-based education system, the USAID Administrator should continue to prioritize the agency’s community-based education programming across the country.
  9. 14 The USAID Administrator should ensure that female members of community development councils in Afghanistan—particularly those in rural areas—are consulted on the design and implementation of USAID programs, in order for programs to better address the concerns and priorities of women in rural communities.
  10. 15 The USAID Administrator should provide financial support to Afghan grassroots civil society organizations that advocate for women’s rights, particularly those that operate in rural areas.
  11. 16 The USAID Administrator should ensure that job skills trainings for Afghan women are designed to be practical and responsive to market needs, and that the agency assesses the degree to which trainings expand participants’ knowledge and skills.
  12. 17 The Secretary of Defense should continue to focus DOD efforts on improving the working conditions and protections for women serving in the ANDSF, rather than focusing solely on increasing recruitment numbers.

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SUPPORT FOR GENDER EQUALITY IN AFGHANISTAN