2002 Report to Congress on U.S. Assistance to Afghan Women
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2002 Report to Congress on U.S. Assistance to Afghan Women
||Report: U.S. Support for Afghan Women, Children, and Refugees|
The Office for International Women's Issues
July 16, 2003
Submitted To Congress by the Department of State under the Afghan Women and Children Relief Act of 2001
Table of Contents
- Overview of Afghan Women, Children and Refugees
- The Women of Afghanistan: A Progress Report
- The Road Ahead
- U.S. Support for Afghan Women's Institutions
- The Economic Sector: U.S. Development Programs For Women
- The Health Sector: U.S. Programs for Afghan Women
- Education: Special U.S. Programs for Afghan Women
- Afghanistan's Children: Saving the Next Generation
- Afghan Refugees: A People Come Home
- U.S. Coordination with Other Donors, UN Bodies, and NGOs
- Conclusion: Large Steps Forward on an Uphill Path
Appendix to 2003 Report to Congress
Appendix Legend (List of Acronyms Used)
This report is respectfully submitted to Congress under the provisions of Sec. 3 (2) of P.L. 107-81, The Afghan Women and Children Act of 2001, as signed into law by the President on December 12, 2001. That section reads, in pertinent part:
Beginning 6 months after the date of enactment of this Act, and at least annually for the 2 years thereafter, the Secretary of State shall submit a report to the Committee on Appropriations and the Committee on Foreign Relations of the Senate and the Committee on Appropriations and the Committee on International Relations of the House of Representatives describing the activities carried out under this Act and otherwise describing the conditions and status of women and children in Afghanistan and the persons in refugee camps while United States aid is given to displaced Afghans.
This reporting subject is also referenced in the Afghan Freedom Support Act of 2002.
The first such report, entitled "U.S. Support for Afghan Women, Children, and Refugees," was submitted to Congress, as called for, in July 2002. The present report follows up that initial assessment, at the stipulated one-year interval.
The report is organized, as was the case last year, into two main sections: a narrative analysis, including illustrative examples of specific issues and U.S. programs; and a detailed Appendix, which provides in matrix format summary information about approximately 175 individual U.S. projects that benefit Afghan women, children, and refugees. In addition, pursuant to legislative history and subsequent informal consultations with Members and staff, this report includes a new section on "Structural Obstacles and Remedial Strategies" regarding the rights of women in Afghanistan.
2. OVERVIEW OF AFGHAN WOMEN, CHILDREN, AND REFUGEES
Progress and Problems
The rebuilding of Afghanistan and of Afghan society remains a work in progress. In addition to occasionally violent political jockeying and ongoing military action to root out remaining terrorists and Taliban elements, the country suffers from enormous poverty, a crumbling infrastructure, widespread land mines, and continued discrimination against women.
Nevertheless, Afghanistan is making significant progress in establishing democracy and good governance, and specifically in efforts to improve the situation of women, even though numerous problems remain. The central government named several women to the Cabinet and other positions of responsibility, and women more broadly have regained a measure of access to public life, health care, education, and employment.
Inadequate training and limited job prospects still hamper the ability of many Afghan women to improve their situation. In addition, societal discrimination against women remains harsh in various locations. For example, some local authorities have tried to exclude women from any employment apart from their traditional agricultural work in the fields, and in many areas it remains the prevailing custom for women's movement outside of the home to be subject to permission from male relatives. The Taliban and al Qaida continue their efforts to attempt to intimidate Afghan women by bombing schools that girls attend and threatening future consequences for women who take advantage of the present openness and seek jobs and education. Overall, while Afghan women and girls have clearly come a long way since the collapse of the Taliban, a great deal remains to be accomplished by Afghans and by the international community working together in order to consolidate and complete this truly historic transformation.
Continuing U.S. Commitment
The United States must and will remain committed to this process of Afghan reconstruction. Deputy Secretary of State Armitage expressed this commitment during a stop in Kabul on May 9, 2003, saying:
President Bush has asked me to come to Afghanistan, shortly following Secretary Rumsfeld's visit, to dramatically make the point that the U.S., although we may be occupied at present in Iraq, is not going to forget our responsibilities here ... I was sent here to rather dramatically illustrate that, in terms of supporting political development and supporting the economic and social redevelopment of Afghanistan, that the U.S. is going to be a worthy partner.
Over the longer term, U.S. policy supports the efforts of the Afghan government to firmly establish a democratic nation that is inhospitable to terrorism and drug trafficking, at peace with its neighbors, and able to provide for its own internal and external security. Refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) should be successfully reintegrated, and social indicators such as education and maternal and infant mortality must improve across the board. Human rights -- including the rights of women and of religious and ethnic minorities -- must be protected; freedom of conscience must be respected in law and in fact. On the economic front, the U.S. hopes to see an Afghanistan with a self-financing public sector and a vibrant market economy.
Overall U.S. humanitarian and reconstruction assistance to Afghanistan, apart from the cost of continuing military and related support operations will be over $1 billion in FY02 and FY03 combined. Most of these funds -- including the major aid categories of food, medical assistance, and rebuilding of physical plant -- are intended to benefit the country and Afghan families as a whole -- men, women, and children alike. Some aid is targeted specifically toward Afghan women, children, or refugees. This combination means that it remains impossible to define a distinct dollar amount devoted just to the three population groups featured in this report. However, it is clear that our assistance program for Afghanistan is being implemented consistent with the principles of the Afghan Women and Children Relief Act of 2001.
3. THE WOMEN OF AFGHANISTAN: A PROGRESS REPORT
Afghanistan's Women in Broad Political Context
Politically, the year from June 2002 to June 2003 was marked by significant progress in Afghanistan, despite continued security incidents and other problems. This period began with a successful Loya Jirga that achieved broad consensus, both on the institutional framework for the current Transitional Administration, and on the next steps toward a permanent democratic system. From late 2002 onward, the Constitutional Drafting Commission labored to produce a draft constitution. That initial draft has now gone to the full Constitutional Commission for a review process that will include some degree of public debate, before being ratified at the Constitutional Loya Jirga, scheduled for October 2003. This landmark accomplishment will set the stage for the scheduled June 2004 national elections, which are already in the planning stages. This ambitious program mandated by the Bonn Accords is now viewed as a realistic timetable.
In all of these activities, the women of Afghanistan continue to play a significant role. For the first time in Afghan history, women delegates constituted over 10 percent of the June 2002 Loya Jirga and participated actively in its proceedings. Women represent fully 20 percent (7 out of 35) of the members of the Constitutional Commission. Women throughout the country will be canvassed and registered for the upcoming (June 2004) national elections. The United States will offer strong support for an election with broad participation from all groups, including women, for a permanent, legitimate government.
Above and beyond formal political institutions and processes, the development of an Afghan civil society is also critical to sustainable peace. The past year witnessed an increase in grassroots NGOs, including those supporting women's rights. The United States plans to continue funding for the development of private independent media, civic education, and political party development, as well as civil society institutions such as indigenous NGOs engaged in public advocacy work.
The Security Environment and Afghan Women
Security remains a serious challenge in many areas of Afghanistan, and some women reportedly have been subjected to violence, including rape or kidnapping, especially outside Kabul where security problems persist. The overall trend, however, is positive. Thus, the measures adopted by President Karzai and other key officials in Kabul to accomplish the two related goals of expanding and refining their own capabilities to provide Afghan citizens with reliable security and bringing local leaders into compliance with the authority of the central government, are of considerable significance for the long-term future of Afghanistan's women.
With respect to the first objective, progress continues to be registered, albeit at a somewhat slower than ideal pace. According to the March 2003 report by the UN Secretary General [p. 9],
with recent agreements by the various factions participating in the National Defense Commission in November 2002, and the signing of a decree on 1 December 2002 establishing an Afghan National Army of 70,000 of all ranks, the Transitional Administration has achieved significant progress.
The U.S. is firmly committed to supporting the development of an effective Afghan National Army, as well as a national police force, for which Germany is the lead international partner. Both forces are being systematically trained to respect human rights, while helping to provide the safest possible environment for all residents of the country. Additional details of this dimension of our policy (which has important implications for the overall situation of Afghan women, children, and refugees, and for U.S. efforts to ameliorate that situation) can be found in a recent, separately mandated Report to Congress on U.S. Strategy to Ensure Security in Afghanistan.
On May 1, 2003, during a visit to Kabul, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld announced the transition to stability operations in Afghanistan. These include both a continued U.S. commitment to combating remaining terrorist elements and also working to help build the basis for stability throughout the country. The transition does not mean any reduction of U.S. forces or diminishing of U.S. commitment. That policy was reaffirmed by Major General John Vines upon his assumption of command of the Joint Coalition Task Force in Afghanistan on May 27, 2003. Speaking to his troops, General Vines stated that
Some 25 years ago, as Afghanistan was wracked by war, the world looked the other way. Your presence here today reflects a commitment not to repeat that mistake. We're here because our governments have committed to helping Afghanistan establish itself as a peaceful, prosperous nation.
The United States is pleased that upon the scheduled change of leadership in August 2003, NATO will lead the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), which has ensured security in the Kabul area. There has been much discussion of the question of expanding ISAF outside of Kabul. We do not oppose the expansion of ISAF; however, enlarging its scope and mission to cover all of Afghanistan would pose significant challenges, and no country has volunteered to assume responsibility for this task.
With regard to the second major security objective -- the extension of Kabul's writ to the provinces -- progress is also underway. In mid-2003, the central government took several concrete steps to bring regional leaders and militia commanders (often called "warlords") more directly under the umbrella of its authority, including the creation of "consulting" arrangements with Kabul and other significant adjustments, including an agreement on paying taxes to the central government. The United States welcomes that agreement and supports President Karzai and his government in their objective of bringing peace and security to Afghanistan.
Today, many Afghan commanders and militia leaders have publicly acknowledged the authority of the central government and some are taking steps in the right direction. In some areas they engage in reconstruction projects, while providing a degree of stability and security in outlying areas. Though some of these regional figures control sizeable militias, they are not necessarily adversaries of the Kabul government. Many have accepted senior positions in that administration, and others can and should play an important role in the country's future political and economic life. However, the militias of some commanders continue to extort "commander's taxes" from local population, maintain multiple checkpoints on roads that extort fees and inhibit commerce, and carry on criminal activities under color of their position as the de facto rulers of much of the country side. In some areas, especially the north, conflicts between the forces of rival commanders threaten public order and risk preparing the ground for a revival of civil war.
U.S. policy in the near-term is to work with, and influence the behavior of, such forces until the Afghan National Army and national police force are ready to take responsibility for the country's internal and external security. This approach is considered to be the most realistic way to incrementally improve the security environment throughout the country -- including the sense of security enjoyed by Afghan women.
We are also aiming to provide humanitarian and reconstruction aid in a way that will strengthen the central government and reinforce its primacy over the provinces. As a result, we believe regional leaders' cooperation with Kabul can be enhanced over time, as the central authority's institutions and capacity to deliver, slowly but surely, increase in breadth and effectiveness and as commanders forces are reduced as part of the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration (DDR) process.
As part of our overall country strategy, which recognizes the nexus between security and reconstruction, the U.S. has deployed Civil-Military Affairs Teams in 12 locations in all regions of Afghanistan. These units, sometimes augmented by Department of State and USAID officials, have, in some cases, helped defuse local conflicts and reduce the number of security incidents.
This structure is being expanded into Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs), whose 60-100 personnel will include development, medical, agricultural and engineering experts along with security and civil affairs units. As of the time this report is being completed, PRTs are functional in Gardez, Bamiyan, and Kunduz, with plans to expand to five other critical locations (Mazar-i-Sharif (The UK will lead), Herat, Jalalabad, Kandahar, and Parwan) over the next six months. The PRTs will soon receive $10 million for carrying out specific reconstruction projects in their provincial locations, which will increase the impact of assistance by allowing a mechanism for funding local programs and NGOs.
One measure of success of the PRT process is that five additional NGOs have permanently established offices in Gardez just since the first PRT was opened there and security incidents in Gardez have been lower than in surrounding areas. As additional PRTs are deployed, we anticipate significant social benefits for local women and men, from the twin improvements in security and economic viability.
The Economic Context for Afghan Women
The economic problems of Afghanistan's women and families are intimately tied to the country's generally difficult economic situation. Accordingly, we believe that the degree of success achieved by a broad national reconstruction and economic revitalization program will be a crucial determinant for the future of the country's women, children, and refugees.
Afghanistan's economy continues to suffer the after effects of decades of conflict, population displacement, and natural disasters, including severe drought from 1998 through 2002 and recurrent major earthquakes. The majority of people still lack sufficient food, clothing, housing, and medical care. About half the entire population of 26.8 million people live in absolute poverty, and half the potential labor force is unemployed.
Yet there are reasons for hope. The quick and generous response of the United States and the international community in the immediate post-conflict period prevented a major humanitarian disaster, even in the face of an unexpectedly massive return of refugees following the establishment of the Karzai government. The transition to a new currency in October 2002 was successful, and inflation, while still a serious problem, is at lower levels than in the recent past. Nature has been kind, with rainfall recovering in the 2003 period to near pre-drought levels, allowing planting of fields in areas that had been abandoned. The increased rainfall also allowed local farmers to make excellent advantage of donor-provided new seeds and fertilizers.
The international donor response has also been significant. The budget presented in Brussels by Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani in March 2003 called for $1.7 billion in development expenditures and $550 million in ordinary or recurring expenses. Fully 82 percent of these identified needs were met, either by donor pledges or by projected government revenues. The United States is in close consultation with other donors to close the remaining gap. However, in presenting the Afghan needs to the international community, President Karzai said the true needs of Afghanistan went well beyond estimates made in the immediate post-conflict period. He called for major new donor commitments in a range of areas. The international community will have to work closely with the Afghan government to determine the full scope of needs, set priorities and consider what resources are available.
From now on, greater emphasis must be placed on reconstruction activities to promote sustainable economic development. Major infrastructure projects with U.S. and other support are underway around the country, including the Kabul-Kandahar-Herat Ring Road construction and many small-scale road projects. We are encouraging greater involvement by multilateral development banks and others in additional construction projects, including quick impact public works such as rebuilding local roads, bridges, schools, and irrigation systems.
In the longer term, reforming economic institutions and implementing sound economic policy are as important as rebuilding infrastructure. We are working to assist the Afghan government to establish institutions, laws, and policies that foster private-sector economic growth, sustainable development, poverty reduction, and social stability. Trade and private investment should play an increasing part in this process, and the United States is priming the pump. On January 10, 2003, President Bush signed a proclamation granting eligible exports from Afghanistan duty-free status, and we expect a Textile Trade Agreement to be concluded soon. We are also working with the World Bank and others on regional approaches to facilitating trade. Through the Trade Development Agency (TDA) and the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC), the U.S. is encouraging investment in Afghanistan, particularly in the hospitality, energy, and telecommunications sectors. USAID and the Department of Commerce are helping the Afghan government update their regulations to promote an attractive and transparent business climate.
In all of these economic activities, a guiding principle is to seek the involvement of women at every stage of reconstruction -- as planners, implementers, and beneficiaries. The objective is to ensure that Afghan women and children share fully in the corresponding improved quality of life, which will accompany Afghanistan's economic development.
Afghan women still face many difficult challenges, which inhibit their ability to participate in economic life. Seclusion, widespread illiteracy, and lack of job skills make it difficult for women to be economically active. Many donor programs, which will be discussed later, therefore focus on job skills training and microfinance for women. A significant number of programs target widows and the particularly vulnerable female-headed households.
A very large-scale example, accounting in dollar terms this year for over one-quarter of total U.S. assistance, is the system of food aid distribution. The World Food Programme (WFP) dedicates a significant percentage of its relief activities to the economically and nutritionally vulnerable, especially female-headed households. In addition, WFP continues to supply food as an incentive for girls' school attendance and for teacher training.
4. THE ROAD AHEAD
Structural Obstacles and
Remedial Strategies for Afghan Women
While U.S. support has helped them make considerable progress in many areas over the past year, Afghan women clearly still confront a number of major obstacles to equal opportunity and satisfactory quality of life. Some of these obstacles, such as incomplete security and inadequate economic development, unfortunately remain endemic to the entire Afghan population, women and men alike. Other major obstacles are gender-specific, including Afghan women's uncertain legal status and many Afghan men's entrenched prejudices and cultural patterns. The continued threat of a resurgence of the Taliban inhibits some women from taking advantage of existing opportunities. The continued activities of al Qaida remnants often target women and men whose female relatives participate in activities such as education.
Broad Security and Economic Problems: U.S. policy focuses on addressing these general problems, as noted above, by leading a long-term campaign of broad international support for Afghanistan's emerging security infrastructure and institutions, as well as for economic reconstruction and revival. Also, in the immediate and medium-term, U.S. strategy is to accord priority in humanitarian relief to the most vulnerable groups, including women and children. Through international bodies and NGOs, as well as direct support to the Afghan government, we support projects for refugee and IDP reintegration, maternal health, women's
income-generating programs, and medical care for children. Additional discussion is provided below in the sections on "The Security Environment and Afghan Women" and on "The Economic Context." Our continued combat operations against remnant Taliban and al Qaida elements will help create the secure environment necessary for women to be able to participate in society.
Legal Uncertainties: While women are technically granted equal rights under the temporarily restored 1964 Afghan constitution, various legal provisions or administrative practices circumscribe those rights in practice. For example, current Afghan law provides that women must get permission from a male relative in order to obtain a passport. In November 2002, the Afghan government raised fears when it renamed the former Department of Vice and Virtue, as the Department of Accountability and Religious Affairs. Some officers of this Department reportedly have attempted to pressure women to dress modestly and wear at least a headscarf in public, especially in Kabul and Heart, though they lack the violent enforcement techniques of their predecessors under the Taliban.
We have generally found that the most effective response to such problems is to insist on the principle of equality, while working quietly for practical solutions. U.S. legal experts, along with European and Afghan colleagues, are quietly working to rectify anomalies in Afghan laws adversely affecting women. U.S. officials have also successfully counseled Afghan authorities to find ways to narrow the mandate, and moderate the behavior toward
women, of their relatively recalcitrant compatriots in positions of authority.
Uneven Government Practices: In some parts of Afghanistan, especially along its borders and in the more remote areas, discrimination against women remains harsh. For example, some local authorities forbid women from working (except as needed in the fields), or even from leaving home without a male family escort. Reports of such objectionable practices have been heard about Herat, near Afghanistan's border with Iran, but such conditions are also present in the east and south.
While the United States cannot, and should not, control everyday life in every corner of Afghanistan, we have systematically raised our concerns about such activities against women, often with apparent effectiveness. For example, in Herat, following a particular NGO's complaints in mid-2002 about local "instructions" for women to dress and behave "properly," U.S. Government interlocutors raised concerns with local authorities, and reports about harassment of this nature dropped off for at least the next six months. Reports in December 2002 that unaccompanied women were being subjected to "virginity tests" have not been subsequently substantiated.
Societal Factors: Given the intensity, pervasiveness, and interlocking nature of societal attitudes towards women in Afghanistan, it is unrealistic to expect a complete social transformation in Afghanistan within just a few years' time. There are reports of mullahs preaching in mosques that the teachings of Islamic law do not give women equal rights and that the wearing of the burka is mandated by Islamic law. What is required is a long-term effort of education, example, and official encouragement, working with Afghan men and women, while continuing our combat operations against the Taliban and al Qaida who continue to seek to impose narrow, extremist views of women's roles. Over time, these endeavors will likely result in the moderation of discrimination against women, and ultimately, perhaps in its obsolescence, as Afghan society modernizes.
While the United States is determined to assist in this effort, it is essential that Afghans themselves take the lead. And the Afghan government's intention to do so is clear. In the words of a leading independent expert from a prestigious NGO assessment team, "there is little reason to doubt the commitment of the Karzai administration and its international partners to address discrimination against women and improve their access to civic life" [The International Crisis Group, statement to Reuters, March 21, 2003].
Special Legal and Judicial Issues Affecting Afghan Women
Constitutional Prospects: Under the December 2001 Bonn Agreement, Afghanistan's 1964 constitution -- which enshrines legal equality for all persons - will be in effect until replaced by a new one. A draft of the new constitution has recently been completed and is under review by the Constitutional Commission. We are confident that the new constitution will make acceptable provisions on the issue of women's rights. With this in mind, the United States will continue to encourage and lend support to the Afghan Constitutional Commission, as well as to the Judicial, Human Rights, and Civil Service Commissions. The provision of technical support and resources to all of these commissions is an important element in ensuring that respect for human rights and the rule of law will become fundamental building blocks of the new Afghan government, and of Afghan civil society.
Judicial Reform: To acquire legitimacy, the rebuilding of Afghanistan's legal and judicial system should be an Afghan-led process. Yes within that context, the Afghans will have to display sensitivity to international concerns regarding their deeply ingrained customary law and Shari'a (Islamic law) traditions. The United States, in particular, will continue to make clear our expectation that Afghanistan's rebuilt judicial system will operate in a manner promoting full respect for international human rights standards. We will take steps, along with the lead Italian and UN Development Program advisors, to help Afghanistan achieve that goal - including direct provision of training and infrastructure to support a fair, effective, and humane criminal and civil justice system. We recognize that the reintegration of women jurists is one of the many challenges that must be addressed in this vital area.
The Trafficking-in-Persons Problem: Press reports suggest some Afghan women and children are at risk of being trafficked, both domestically and to neighboring countries, for sexual exploitation or forced labor. President Karzai has spoken out against this heinous crime, and appointed a Commission to Combat Trafficking to help remedy the problem both domestically and internationally. The United States will continue to assist the Afghan government to incorporate anti-trafficking measures into the country's legal regime and ongoing aid programs for women and children. We will also urge Afghanistan to expand its cooperation with NGOs and international organizations to protect victims, while improving cooperation among the pertinent law enforcement agencies. The Department of State's Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons is funding an objective survey by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) to gauge the true scope of trafficking in Afghanistan. We will then be in a better position to provide further recommendations on how to most effectively address the issue.
5. U.S. SUPPORT FOR AFGHAN WOMEN'S INSTITUTIONS
The Afghan Ministry of Women's Affairs
According to the March 2003 Report by the UN Secretary General [p. 8], The Ministry of Women's Affairs is "increasingly playing an important strategic role, at the national level, in mobilizing and encouraging women's political activism for peace and reconstruction." Its structure encompasses five departments: legal services and advocacy, education, vocational training, women's health and communications, and planning and international relations. The United States continues to actively support the ministry's work, with project funding and technical assistance as well as political backing.
In the new Cabinet created by the 2002 Loya Jirga, the portfolio of Minister of Women's Affairs, which was originally held by Dr. Sima Samar, was assumed by Dr. Habiba Sarabi. Over the past year, the ministry has expanded beyond Kabul and established a ministry branch office presence in most provinces, with plans underway for extension to the remaining provinces as well. The Ministry's goal is to set up a network of Women's Resource Centers in each of the nation's 32 provinces. Until such centers are constructed, some programming is beginning in temporary facilities. This is in line with its overall administrative priorities of institutional development and national outreach and its program priorities of supporting women's security, legal and political rights, and economic empowerment.
In furtherance of these objectives, the ministry has organized a number of public events and follow-up initiatives in cooperation with UN agencies, NGOs, and other Afghan government offices. For example, in September 2002, the ministry held a workshop on women's programs in the national budget and international aid proposals. This was followed up by the formal submission to the Afghan Ministry of Finance, in February 2003, of a "Public Investment Programme in Advocacy and Support for the Integration of Gender into the National Development Budget."
On another urgent issue, the Ministry of Women's Affairs sponsored an event on the theme of combating violence against women in November 2002. This led to the initiation of a legal advocacy project, in cooperation with the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), which includes a component designed to deter and redress domestic violence. Also, in the crucial area of employment and vocational training, USAID is working with the Ministry and with UNAMA to set up a career support unit that will provide advice and support to qualified women so that they can return to the job market.
These services, and many others, will become available to Afghan women at local facilities not just in the capital, but eventually in each of the country's provinces. A primary locus for such practical outreach efforts will be the new Women's Resource Centers, a highly effective model of "one-stop shopping" for a variety of health, education, income-generation, and related support services. The Department of State, USAID, and other agencies are channeling their assistance for the construction and operation of these Centers through the Ministry of Women's Affairs, in collaboration with NGO and private sector donors mobilized through another key institution: the U.S.-Afghan Women's Council.
The U.S.-Afghan Women's Council
The U.S.-Afghan Women's Council (USAWC) is an institution designed to forge bi-national, public-private partnerships to fill gaps in the array of official programs benefiting Afghan women, mobilizing government offices, NGOs, the business community, and individual citizens to understand the problems and work together voluntarily on practical solutions. Announced by President Bush and President Karzai at their first meeting in January 2002, the Council held plenary meetings in Washington in April 2002 and in Kabul in January 2003, with the next session scheduled for July 2003 in Washington.
The Council is co-chaired by the U.S. Under Secretary of State for Global Affairs and the Afghan Ministers of Foreign Affairs and of Women's Affairs. Members include distinguished scholars, NGO leaders, and business executives and government officials. Its meetings in Kabul were attended by no fewer than ten Afghan Cabinet ministers -- a testament of Council's success in raising the salience of women's issues.
The organization also maintains a dynamic presence on the worldwide web, responding to a steady stream of inquiries about opportunities to aid Afghan women. True to the Council's inspiration, this website's design itself was donated by a private sector contributor (Grafik Communications, Ltd.); other firms, foundations, and associations have also offered money, material, or services for worthwhile women's projects. The list so far includes: Gateway Computers, Daimler-Chrysler, AOL/Time-Warner Foundation, Smith-Richardson Foundation, American Association of State Colleges and Universities, Fortune 500 Group, Committee of 200, and others.
The first project launched by the Council was a successful Autumn 2002 pilot project that brought a group of Afghan women civil servants to the United States for computer education and professional leadership training. This was followed up by a series of digital video conferences (DVCs) between top American women executives and aspiring Afghan career women, to link women and build mentoring relationships that can center on personal strategies for business development and other practical questions.
At present, the Council has announced and is finalizing operational details of a relatively ambitious project to support educational programs in the soon-to-be-built provincial Women's Resource Centers. This project, using $1 million in funds designated by Congress, will carry out a series of educational programs in critical issue areas for women, including job skills training, political participation human rights education, and literacy.
Additional Council projects now underway include a grant through an Afghan NGO to train and equip Afghan women as master weavers in a job skills training program. The women will start by learning to weave wool, which is easier, and then graduate to silk weaving. Upon completion of this program, the women will receive the looms they learned on and will have the skills and tools needed to support their families. In another grant, the Council is providing funds to assist the American NGO, FINCA, start a microfinance program, which will enable women to enter the economic sector. The Council believes in microfinance as an effective mechanism to help empower some of the world's neediest women and is helping support effective microcredit startup in Afghanistan.
These projects and others initiated under the Council's auspices are deliberately small in scale -- but large in impact, in terms both of public profile and of social returns. The Council's unique "value added" lies in its ability to fill niche requirements that would otherwise go unmet, even as it fosters creative, grass-roots collaboration in the cause of Afghan women's advancement.
6. THE ECONOMIC SECTOR: U.S. DEVELOPMENT PROGRAMS FOR WOMEN
Many Afghan women are sole heads of household and all were denied the opportunity to participate in the Afghan economy under Taliban rule, except in performing farm work and in a few NGO projects that stayed alive during that period. The Department of State and USAID's Office of Transitional Initiatives (OTI) have worked with international and local NGOs to implement many income-generating and training programs to integrate women into the developing Afghan economy. Examples of such programs follow.
Through the Maimana's Women's Association in Faryab Province, USAID has provided the machinery and materials to restart the production of carpets and traditional embroidered cloth. The project benefited 150 women, and the center employs 20 women full-time, half of whom are widows. The center has expressed a desire to hire 15 more women and is currently working to secure a sales contract for the carpets.
USAID/OTI completed the Women's Market Garden Project in Herat, which provided 100 women with no male family members the opportunity to grow income-producing crops and sell their harvest. Women plant almond trees, vegetables, and flowers on land donated by the local government. Local government officials initially resisted the concept of a women's cooperative, but a recent survey of seven area villages indicates that most men and women now support the initiative, and eventually the government demonstrated its support for the project by donating the land.
In order to provide women the opportunity to work in the national government's ministries, USAID/OTI supported the construction and rehabilitation of nine kindergartens and day care centers at the Ministries of Reconstruction, Communication, Education, Planning, Justice, Water and Power, Agriculture and Livestock, Rural Development, and Information and Culture. The kindergartens benefit more than 550 children and their mothers annually.
Through the urban bakeries program, USAID-donated wheat supports the World Food Programme (WFP) in providing a daily ration of bread to approximately 250,000 highly vulnerable people living in Afghanistan's major cities. Of the 117 bakeries in operation, 57 are run and managed by women. In addition to the 25 women's bakeries in Kabul (several more will soon be in operation), there are bakery projects in Mazar (60 men's and 20 women's bakeries) and Kandahar (12 women's bakeries), and WFP is currently expanding the bakery program to Herat city. The women's bakeries generally employ about 15 women, almost all from the city's most vulnerable households, which are usually headed by widows or the disabled. Since May 2002, the bakeries (and their funds) are completely self-managed, and WFP is exploring alternatives to help make the bakeries sustainable enterprises in the future.
The Department of Labor is funding two training and jobs skills development projects in Afghanistan. Total grant funding is U.S. $3.3 million. The projects target vulnerable groups in Afghanistan, including young people, ex-combatants, and women, and provide training to help individuals find employment or become self-employed. One project focuses exclusively on women and also addresses the educational needs of girls, developing women's skills to make garments by teaching them how to make school uniforms for girls.
7. THE HEALTH SECTOR: U.S. PROGRAMS FOR AFGHAN WOMEN
Health Conditions of Afghan Women
Afghanistan's healthcare situation is among the worst in the world. Afghanistan has the highest maternal mortality rate worldwide and the fourth-worst under-five mortality rate. Infant mortality remains a grave problem as well. Leading factors in infant and child mortality include diarrhea, acute respiratory infections, malaria, and micronutrient deficiencies/malnutrition. Major causes of maternal mortality include hemorrhaging and obstructed labor, and malnutrition. Lack of access to adequate health care, especially for women and children, remains a widespread problem in Afghanistan and is particularly acute in rural areas.
For women, the healthcare situation is dire. An HHS/UNICEF November 2002 study documented the maternal mortality rate in Afghanistan as 1,600 per 100,000 births, the highest in the world. Maternal mortality is the leading cause of death among women of reproductive age, with almost one-half (48%) of all fatalities in the 15-49-age bracket resulting from complications during pregnancy and labor. Of the deaths reported in the UNICEF study, roughly 87% are considered preventable. The study cited hemorrhaging as the most common cause of death, with obstructed labor as the next most common cause. The primary barrier to healthcare for women is lack of access to trained health care providers and clinics. However, training programs for midwifes and traditional birth attendants will help ameliorate this situation as more skilled attendants become available.
The HHS/UNICEF study indicated a "near total lack of access to emergency obstetric care" in cases of pregnancy and delivery related deaths, but it also cited a dramatic difference in care between rural and urban areas. In Kabul, the maternal mortality rate was 400 per 100,000 births while in the rural province of Badakhshan the rate was 6,500 per 100,000 births. Roughly one-half of women in Kabul received prenatal care and delivered with the assistance of a skilled attendant, while no women surveyed in the rural areas of Kandahar and Badakhshan received care from skilled attendants during childbirth.
Recommendations from the HHS/UNICEF study included increasing access to healthcare through road construction and preventative education. It is important to remember that in Afghanistan, such infrastructure and human capital investments can literally mean the difference between life and death.
U.S. Programs To Improve Maternal Health
In response to these recommendations, USAID has committed to rebuilding the road from Kabul to Kandahar, constructing health centers in previously unserved or underserved rural areas, and providing training and developing curricula for community health workers and maternal and newborn health providers.
Maternal and newborn healthcare programs sponsored by USAID have provided training for community health workers in recognizing complications during pregnancy and situations warranting referral for more specialized treatment.
Safe birthing kits were supplied to 1,100 community health workers as of November 2002.
The Safe Motherhood Program, a joint effort between USAID and the Agha Khan University, provides midwives with the final year of a three-year midwifery training that also incorporated leadership skills training. The participants in this program completed their first two years of midwifery training before the Taliban rule began, but were then forced to cease their studies. The training will be completed this summer at Malalai Hospital in Kabul through the Intermediary Medical Education Institution (IMEI). The program graduates will then go on to train others at preventative health centers throughout Afghanistan.
USAID is also supporting a pilot project with the Johns Hopkins Program for International Education in Gynecology and Obstetrics (JHPIEGO) that trains auxiliary midwives through an 18-month educational program. The program is currently taking place in Nangarhar Province under an experimental agreement between USAID and the Afghan Ministry of Health, but it is hoped that the pilot will lead to expansion of auxiliary midwifery trainings.
To focus on the dire situation in rural areas, USAID provided technical assistance to strengthen a two-year course that trains women to be skilled birthing attendants through HNI's rural-based auxiliary midwife training program. These women then serve in areas that lack skilled female healthcare providers. USAID also plans to increase the reach of this program to provide similar training in other areas of Afghanistan.
Through the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, $1.3 million has been awarded to support initiatives to reduce the high maternal mortality rate. These projects have provided services to an estimated 1.4 million beneficiaries in 11 provinces. The U.S. Embassy in Kabul and USAID also supported a national health resource assessment that will be used to reconstruct an adequate national healthcare system.
The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has also worked to reduce the maternal mortality rate, and in a program in conjunction with the Department of Defense (DOD), has reconstructed the Rabia Balkhi Women's Hospital and is developing it as a training facility for maternal and child health. The hospital has a capacity of 300 beds with a staff of 500. The Afghan Ministry of Health (MOH) and DOD/HHS have agreed to develop a training program at the hospital for physicians, nurse midwives, physician assistants, nurses and a variety of technicians. The trained workers are to go to the remote areas to train others in rural communities.
HHS is also investing in programs to improve nutrition in Afghanistan. Malnutrition is a primary cause of maternal mortality, and HHS has provided technical and financial support through UNICEF and the World Health Organization for a national nutrient and micronutrient survey and the development of a surveillance system to monitor the coverage and impact of micronutrient fortification programs.
8. EDUCATION: SPECIAL U.S. PROGAMS FOR AFGHAN WOMEN
Because women were systematically denied opportunities for education and vocational training under the Taliban, and female illiteracy was widespread before the Taliban, it is essential that the donor community conduct intense efforts to improve literacy rates and vocational proficiency and professional opportunities for women. A wide range of United States government programs in Afghanistan are focused on improving primary education for Afghan boys and girls, and on literacy and job skills education for women. Programs for children's education will be described separately in the subsequent section on children below.
A State Department/Population Refugees and Migration(PRM) program with International Rescue Committee (IRC) for school construction and the provision of literacy, life skills, and teacher training (as well as water supply and sanitation) in the Kunduz, Takhar, and Badakhshan Provinces benefits 40,000 children, 16,500 youth and 50,000 women.
A State/PRM program for income generation, basic skills, and literacy training for 1,250 widows and other female heads of household in Kabul city. More than half of the vulnerable population participants included in this program are returnees and IDPs.
A USAID/OTI program with Women of Dawlatabad has allowed the Women's Literacy Group in Dawlatabad to provide literacy classes to 1,500 women, facilitator training to 74 women, and supervisor training to 12 women.
Two grants provided by USAID to the Agency Coordinating Body for Afghan Relief (ACBAR) to encourage literacy by providing women with access to libraries. These two grants supported a literacy campaign and built the capacity of 9 public libraries in 8 provinces. USAID also supported the rehabilitation of the Teachers' Training Institute in Kunduz, benefiting 1,600 students training as primary school teachers, including 120 current students, most of them women.
The State Department's Bureau of South Asian Affairs (SA) sponsored many vocational training and educational programs for Afghan women in collaboration with various implementing partners. The most notable projects completed this year are the following:
A 6-month project with French NGO AINA and The Asia Foundation to document the oral history of Afghan women. The project trained 14 women journalists in digital media and film production techniques. These women then went out into the countryside to film other Afghan women speaking about their lives, including the abuses that they suffered under the Taliban and their other difficult experiences from the years of war and destruction. The project produced a 52-minute documentary entitled, "Afghanistan Unveiled."
Legal training through the International Human Rights Law Group's mobile legal clinics for Afghan women refugees in Pakistan and inside of Afghanistan. The goal of the training is to enable Afghan female lawyers to become more effective advocates for human rights and to act as a counterweight to religious extremists in the development of Afghanistan by providing essential legal education and training of Afghan women lawyers in progressive Muslim views and models.
The State Department's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA) has also sponsored a number of vocational and literacy training programs for women, among them:
Intensive workshops, seminars, and planning sessions at the Stevens Institute of Technology for 12 female Afghan science teachers in June-August 2003 who were brought to the Institute for this training, and will then return to Afghanistan.
A teacher education project which brought 14 Afghan basic education specialists to the U.S. for a four-week teacher training program in curriculum and materials development, computer literacy and train-the-trainer skills at the University of Nebraska.
A six-week, Washington, DC-based training program for Afghan female teachers focused on Afghanistan's most pressing educational needs. The goal of this program is to develop programs for teacher-training in Afghanistan that would reach 380 prospective teacher-trainers who would then spread the program to other areas of Afghanistan and surrounding refugee communities, training other teachers there.
9. AFGHANISTAN'S CHILDREN: SAVING THE NEXT GENERATION
The situation of children in Afghanistan is still generally poor, despite the efforts of local and international organizations to ensure their welfare. The infant mortality rate is one of the highest in the world, and one-fourth of children born die before reaching age 5. Nevertheless, as many as 45% of Afghans today are children under 14 years old.
The United States continues to mount a major response to the daunting challenge of enabling Afghans to better care for their children. The focus, as described below, is on the provision of primary healthcare and primary education. Fortunately, preliminary statistics in both these core areas, particularly in education, show significant improvements during the past year. Massive inoculation and other preventive health campaigns to combat endemic childhood diseases promise medium-term improvements, possibly of dramatic proportions. Yet given the scope of Afghanistan's needs in these areas, these concerns will almost certainly remain a central preoccupation of U.S. reconstruction strategy for the foreseeable future.
Afghan Children's Education: An Overview
The opportunities for Afghan children's education, and especially for girls, have improved dramatically under the Karzai government, no small achievement after the serious and systematic abuses of the Taliban regime. Girls flocked to schools when they re-opened in March 2002, and it was estimated that of the 3 million new students this past school year, 35% were girls. The Ministry of Education has publicly announced a commitment to increasing girls' enrollment further still, and UNICEF has announced a goal of an additional 500,000 girls enrolled in primary schools by March 2004. The goal is for Afghanistan to eventually achieve universal primary education and a level of equality where half of the school children are girls.
Educational opportunities in Afghanistan vary significantly among the country's different regions. Cultural barriers to educating girls persist, more strongly in some areas than in others, and are heightened by a lack of trained female teachers. Physical limitations such as insufficient or inaccessible spaces and structures, lack of access to safe water, lack of books and other materials, and inadequate sanitation mechanisms provide further barriers to educating all Afghan children. In many areas of Afghanistan classes are held out-of-doors without books or materials.
U.S. Efforts to Improve Children's Education
The United States through USAID provided over ten million texts (paperback pamphlets that last one year) in 2002, which benefited both Afghan schoolgirls and schoolboys for that school year. USAID provided a similar number of texts in 2003.. The United States has helped rebuild and rehabilitate more than 230 schools to date, and plans to do an additional 1,000 more, and provide training for teachers, most of whom are women, as part of a package of $61 million of support for primary education over the next three years.
The United States, through USAID and the State Department, with various NGO and UN partners aims to continue the important progress achieved in the last year through projects directed towards teacher training, especially training women teachers, and improved access roads and buildings for girls schools, among other projects.
The State Department's Bureau of South Asian Affairs (SA) sponsored a "Seeds of Peace" conflict resolution training for 6 girls and 6 boys during the summer of 2002. The children were brought to the United States for the training, which included educational programs designed to increase tolerance and enhance leadership. The program has been extended to summer of 2003 and will have 14 children.
USAID has sponsored over 45 reconstruction or rehabilitation projects for primary and secondary schools in various regions of Afghanistan. Of those schools, more than 14 are specifically girls' schools, and over 23,000 girls have benefited from the various school construction projects sponsored by USAID, many of them now able to attend school for the first time in their lives.
A primary barrier to education for girls remains physical access to schools in many areas due to the poor road conditions. USAID has sponsored a number of construction projects aimed at improving access to schools, including construction of culverts along the Walai access road to the Kolangar girls' school, a project which benefited 200 female students.
Children's Health Programs
Among specific health programs for children, vaccination programs have been central to the United States efforts to improve healthcare in Afghanistan:
USAID has provided grants to UNICEF for measles vaccinations for 2.2 million children and a polio surveillance and vaccination campaign. USAID has also supported a campaign to reduce diarrheal diseases through USAID and Population Services International.
The State Department's Bureau of Population, Migration, and Refugees (PRM) has also sponsored health education programs for Afghan refugee children with Save the Children (UK).
10. AFHGAN REFUGEES: A PEOPLE COME HOME
Since early 2002, more than 2 million refugees have returned to Afghanistan. Nearly all of these came from either Pakistan or Iran, and nearly all returned voluntarily (except around 38,500 who were deported for various reasons, such as being unaccompanied minors). In 2003 returns continued but at a reduced rate. UNHCR estimates that over 3 million Afghan refugees are still concentrated in neighboring countries, many of whom are reluctant to leave those countries. In addition, approximately 200,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) inside Afghanistan (out of an estimated total of 700,000) were assisted in returning to their homes or to a location of their choice during the past year; about the same number appear to have returned home on their own.
As evident from the program notes and budget figures in the Appendix to this Report, the United States continues to contribute heavily to this successful repatriation and resettlement effort. Since September 2001, that contribution exceeds $185 million, of which $40 million has been committed or obligated so far in FY 2003. The vast bulk of these funds are channeled through such agencies as the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), the International Organization for Migration (IOM), and the World Food Programme (WFP). The State Department's Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration (PRM) is the lead agency on refugee programs. Examples of PRM programs are:
A program with Community Housing Foundation to repair and reconstruct irrigation systems, roads and schools; provide shelter kits; and replenish the herds of animals belonging to extremely vulnerable Afghan refugees and IDPs returning to Bamiyan and Kabul provinces, that benefited 210,000 returning Afghan refugees and IDPs, mostly Tajiks, Hazaras and Pashtuns.
A program with International Catholic Migration Committee (ICMC) to identify and coordinate social services delivery to vulnerable urban Afghans in Pakistan that benefited 2,000 households of Afghan urban refugee families and the local population.
PRM's emergency response to assist Afghan refugees and IDPs through UNHCR provided support for voluntary repatriation and reintegration for returning refugees. State/PRM funded 25% of the UNHCR appeal for a program that assisted 1.8 million Afghan refugees return.
The United States continues to support UNHCR and other partners assisting and protecting Afghan refugees still outside the country, in order to help ensure that repatriation remains gradual, manageable, and voluntary. Based on trends over the past few months, UNHCR projects that it will facilitate the return of more than 1 million additional Afghan refugees this year.
It is also noteworthy that, with U.S. support, UNHCR has moved to institutionalize greater gender sensitivity in its Afghan operations. Female UNHCR staff, including Afghan women, are present at all entry points and other facilities. The percentage of local women employed by UNHCR has jumped from zero in January 2002 to around 30 percent by mid-2003. Contracts with implementing organizations require that women be included as decision-makers on matters regarding both shelter and water wells, and that wives or widows be included on benefits documentation. UN statistics show that women and girls account for just under half (47 percent) of the total number of refugee returnees. Unemployment of returnees is a serious problem, but the U.N.'s Report to the Secretary General suggests that women comprise over one-quarter of those returnees who have found employment, an impressively high proportion by local standards, most probably reflecting special donor programs aimed at helping women returnees.
As more returnees and IDPs relocate to their homes, we must ensure that their needs are not neglected because international attention has shifted elsewhere. The United States will work with other donors to make sure Afghan refugee assistance programs continue, for both humanitarian and stability/security reasons. Indeed, this aspect of our overall effort in Afghanistan has been cited by the U.S. Embassy in Kabul as one of its long-term strategic goals.
11. U.S. COORDINATION WITH OTHER DONORS, UN BODIES, AND NGOs
As noted in the preceding discussion, various U.S. activities in support of Afghan women, children, and refugees are carried out in collaboration with other international donors. In some cases, the lead nation is a non-U.S. partner (e.g., Italy on judicial reform, Germany on police training). Implementation on the ground is often through specialized UN and other international organizations (e.g., UNIFEM, UNDP, IOM, ICRC, etc.) or NGOs (e.g., Mercy Corps, Shelter International, Save the Children), usually in tandem with Afghan government offices. Indigenous Afghan NGOs -- such as Shuhada, Ariana, and others active on women's issues - are also increasingly involved. For optimal efficiency, this burden-sharing arrangement requires a multilateral coordinating mechanism.
In early 2002, the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) established the Interagency Network for Gender in Afghanistan, comprised of 12 UN bodies, to better coordinate the relevant programs. In June 2002, the Network widened its membership to include representatives from the international donor and NGO communities, and also from Afghanistan's own Ministry of Women's Affairs. As the Afghan central government (with strong U.S. encouragement) assumes greater responsibility for guiding the country's overall reconstruction effort, these expanded consultations have also offered valuable input on mainstreaming women's rights issues to other Afghan ministries.
An important example of this transition in practice was the 2003 mid-course reassessment of Afghanistan's capital transfer requirements for development projects and government operations, which resulted in increased funding for a number of programs that include Afghan women as beneficiaries. Earlier this year, based in part upon a detailed presentation by the Afghan Minister of Finance, we took a hard look at whether even the $4.5 billion pledged at the January 2002 Tokyo donors conference for the next five years was enough to meet immediate and longer term needs. The international consultative group raised the goal to over $5 billion -- and also, of equal import, agreed to accelerate these large disbursements.
In addition, the United States actively seeks out information, analysis, and action recommendations on the status of Afghan women and their families from a wide spectrum of sources. The list includes other official bodies as well as independent professional organizations engaged in this area (e.g., the EU Commission, Human Rights Watch, International Crisis Group, and many others). Even where there may be differences of judgment or interpretation on the finer points of certain issues, or on the best courses of action to address them, we welcome dialogue. We make every effort to seriously consider the sober assessments and constructive suggestions of other practitioners on what is intrinsically a subject of some controversy inside Afghan society.
12. CONCLUSION: LARGE STEPS FORWARD ON AN UPHILL PATH
Since our first Report to Congress in June 2002, strong and consistent U.S. support has led the women and children of Afghanistan to substantial gains in some areas, including education, personal freedoms, and political participation. We have also led the way in achieving limited but real gains in other areas, such as health care and employment. The solid start we initially reported 6 months after our coalition overthrew the Taliban, has generally been sustained, consolidated, and in many cases augmented by further progress. In addition, we have made a major contribution in successfully repatriating, with surprising speed, well over 2 million of the roughly 5 million Afghan refugees.
To be sure, there remains much to be done. The UN Secretary General's report of January 2003 offers an incisive "midterm" summary [at p. 1] of this impressive yet incomplete work in progress:
Afghanistan's emergence from 24 years of conflict has led to significant positive changes in women's lives: women are re-emerging as a political and economic force; they participated in decision-making on the peace process and the reconstruction of their country; they were appointed to serve in the Government; women are returning to the workforce and women and girls were able to gain access to education.
In spite of this progress, many challenges to women's full and equal participation in society remain: in many parts of the country women face violence; they are primary victims of insecurity, which limits their access to public life and threatens their lives and dignity; restrictions to the full enjoyment of fundamental freedoms and human rights continue to be applied to women by local leaders.
Notably, in just the 6 months since those words were written, the preceding discussion demonstrates that several promising developments have evolved. In the political sphere, qualified women have taken an active role in preparing a new constitution; and women as a whole are poised to reclaim their legal rights, and to participate in significant numbers in the national election a year from now. In the economic sphere, international assistance has accelerated, needed rainfall has returned, and Afghanistan's domestic economy is showing some signs of revival. Women are finding employment opportunities and receiving essential job skills training. Microcredit programs should help additional numbers of women start their own small businesses in the future. In the security sphere, the Afghan government and its foreign friends, including the U.S., have together taken a series of small but cumulatively significant steps to enhance security in most outlying areas.
This solid record of accomplishment suggests that continued progress is more than possible; it is actually highly probable. The sole prerequisite is that U.S. and other international backing for Afghanistan's internal evolution toward stable democracy and sustainable development build upon its current momentum. That is precisely our commitment, which has withstood the challenges of transition and continues unabated. It captures the essence of U.S. policy to maintain support for Afghan women, children, and refugees.
Over the next year, one clear objective is to accelerate Afghan reconstruction and development, in order to bolster the democratic process, reduce dependence on donors, and improve the quality of life for all Afghans. The simple demographic reality is that women, children and refugees constitute the vast majority of this country's entire population, so they will be massively helped simply by being ensured their inclusion in general economic growth.
A second objective poised on the horizon is to encourage Afghans to agree on a representative constitution and other legal instruments -- and to encourage Afghan women in particular to take advantage of their new-found democratic prerogatives. Other top priorities will be to sustain momentum toward improved nationwide security, and to continue to make progress through education and example to help attitudes evolve toward norms that support women's empowerment.
This is an ambitious but achievable agenda. It will build upon the progress described -- and tackle the problems identified for resolution -- in the preceding discussion. The proper foundation has been laid over the past year, and we now have much better grounds than before for authentic optimism about the longer-term prospects for Afghanistan and all its people: for women as well as men, for refugees and returnees alike, and for the new generation of Afghans along with their elder and long-suffering sisters and brothers.