Afghanistan grapples with a range of challenges from growing insecurity to stagnating growth and rising levels of poverty. It is no surprise that the impact of the violent conflict on the country’s economic prospects and the welfare of its people is profound. Yet, Afghanistan carries ambitious development goals including achieving gender parity in primary schooling by 2030 among others. To ensure Afghanistan meets its goals, it is important to know how the country has progressed on socio-economic outcomes.
In collaboration with the Ministry of Economy of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and based on data provided by the Central Statistics Organization, the World Bank recently published the third edition of the Provincial Briefs (also available in Dari and Pashto), which provides a comprehensive profile of the most recent progress on a set of socio-economic indicators including education both at the national and at the provincial levels.
What do they reveal? We can see Afghanistan has achieved impressive improvements in human development outcomes—in areas such as education, health, and access to basic services. But this overall progress has not benefitted everyone equally and gaps in access between Afghans living in different provinces persist. In fact, where Afghan families live matters greatly for their socio-economic outcomes. And when it comes to schooling, this is no different. Location determines whether children will go to school or not.
Will rural communities in Afghanistan be deprived of development services upon the completion of the National Solidarity Programme (NSP) in the Ministry of Rural Rehabilitation and Development (MRRD)?
What will happen to the Community Development Councils (CDCs) established in rural communities to execute people’s development decisions and priorities?
Will our country continue to witness reconstruction of civic infrastructure?
These were some of the questions that troubled thousands of villagers as the NSP neared its formal closure date - NSP had delivered development services in every province of Afghanistan for 14 years.
To address these questions and allay their concerns, the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan formally launched the Citizens’ Charter Program on September 25, 2016 to sustain the uninterrupted development and reconstruction in Afghanistan.
Fatima brimmed with optimism. The 19-year-old recently established a poultry enterprise with the support of a micro-grant, and was thrilled at the prospect of financial independence.
“After my family moved from Pakistan, I had few options for work,” she said from her home in the Paghman district in the outskirts of Kabul. “The grant not only allowed me to start my own poultry business, but let me work from my own home.”
With over half the population under the age of 15, Afghanistan stands on the cusp of a demographic dividend. To reach their full potential, Afghanistan’s youth need to be engaged in meaningful work – enabling young people to support themselves, but also contribute to the prosperity of their families and communities.
Last week, I took a journey on Mumbai’s suburban train system, which carries a staggering 8 million women and men, equivalent to the entire population of Switzerland, every day to where they live, work, and spend time with family and friends. Although stretched, the system has reduced mobility constraints and increased independence for millions of women who rely on safe transport to access education and job opportunities; contributing to the city’s dynamism and growth. There are similarly inspiring examples from all countries in South Asia.
As we mark International Women’s Day, we celebrate the progress made in improving women’s inclusion and empowerment, while seeking to better address continuing challenges, which are estimated to cost South Asian economies $888 billion, through devising and implementing solutions that will bridge remaining gaps.
Much to be proud of—a lot more remains to be done
South Asian countries have seen encouraging increases in greater access and gender parity in education. At the same time, the region has achieved substantial decreases in maternal and child mortality. Countries have made great strides in healthcare access through training more female healthcare workers while providing affordable care for mothers and children. The region also boasts many inspiring female leaders and role models, as well as the countless individuals positively contributing to their communities and societies against difficult odds.
However, much more needs to be done in order to nurture all women and men to realize their potential. As South Asian countries become more prosperous, their growth trajectory will be less assured if hundreds of millions of women remain excluded from education and employment opportunities. South Asian countries will need to substantially expand their workforce in order to meet their economic growth goals and, at the same time, adequately support their increasingly large populations. Studies show that only around 1 out of 4 women in South Asia participate in the labor force, about half of what is typical in middle-income countries in other regions. Too many women face restrictions in decision-making, mobility, public safety; and far too many experience gender-based violence—the most egregious cases making headlines around the world. What can help bridge these gaps?
Women and men agree on Afghanistan’s development priorities according to the findings of the country’s most recent Living Conditions Survey of 2013/14 where more than 20,000 Afghan women and men were separately asked what they thought their government’s main development priority should be.
Both women and men picked service delivery, infrastructure development and increased security as top development priorities. Three-quarters of men and women said that the main priorities were improved access to drinking water, construction and rehabilitation of roads, and improved health facilities. About 15 to 18 percent of the respondents picked more jobs, access to agriculture and veterinary services, and improved local education facilities. Not surprisingly, in districts rated as insecure, priorities for both women and men shifted toward increased security. This emphasis on security meant that men and women in these districts gave a relatively lower priority for infrastructure services especially for road construction and electricity provision.
I am a messenger between local farmers and the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock (MAIL). That’s my role as provincial coordinator of the National Horticulture and Livestock Project (NHLP) for Daykundi Province. I lead agricultural trainings, visit farmers, oversee all project activities in the province—there is no typical day. I’m constantly working to understand and help improve the situation of Daykundi’s farmers. I usually learn as much from my interactions with farmers as I teach—one of the favorite parts of my job is when farmers share the wisdom they’ve gained farming the land for generations.
Most of the farmers we work with are very poor, and it is easy to see the direct impact our work has in improving their livelihoods and lives. In teaching basic horticultural skills, creating sustainable livelihoods, and giving farmers the resources they need, we are helping rebuild Afghanistan from the grassroots. With support from the Afghanistan Reconstruction Trust Fund (ARTF), NHLP works to promote the adoption of improved horticulture practices and spark grassroots efforts that will be self-sustaining beyond the direct work of our projects.
Since NHLP launched in Daykundi Province in 2014, we have established 1,400 jeribs, or 280 hectares, of grapes, almonds, apples, and apricots, and we’re working to build 18 water harvesting structures to improve irrigation across the province.
Over the past several years, innovations in information and communication technologies have fundamentally changed the nature of work.
This has created new opportunities in digital employment for workers and employers in South Asia and beyond.
So what are the pathways to this new employment?
During a recent Facebook live chat on digital jobs, we explored three themes related to the digital jobs of the future. First, we discussed where the digital jobs of the future are. Second, we discussed how South Asia is uniquely positioned to benefit from the growth of these jobs. And finally, we discussed how to get started in the digital economy by finding relevant training and learning opportunities.
Here’s an overview of our discussion in five points:
Digital jobs fall into two categories: jobs within the IT or digital industries, and what are termed digital society jobs. Digital industry jobs include those such as computer programmer, mobile app developer, graphic designer and other jobs where information and communication technologies are the core tool to perform the job functions. However, technology is also changing what we call digital society jobs, where technology is maybe not core to the job functions, but makes more you more efficient and productive, and improves access to markets and networks.
2. What is driving the emergence of these new digital jobs?
The rapid rise in connectivity that is linking more and more people to the internet is changing employment. Today, many jobs can be performed through computers, with workers telecommuting from almost anywhere in the world. Many business processes are being broken down into task based work, and which can be farmed out to people with the skills to do them, anywhere the world. Some of these tasks need higher-level skills, and can pay well – especially compared with many developing countries’ wage levels. But there are also simpler tasks that many more people, even those with limited skills, can do. This mix creates the opportunity to include more people in the global digital economy, while also creating pathways towards better paying and higher quality work for those who perform well and pick up in-demand skills.
Last November, when the SAARC summit that was supposed to be held in Pakistan was canceled, I thought regional cooperation in South Asia would lose its momentum. Tensions between members not only postponed the SAARC Summit, but also hampered the South Asian Economics Students (SAESM) meet. SAESM was scheduled to be held in India in December where I was supposed to be a participant. I started believing in news, media and opinion pieces that said ‘there’s no future for South Asian integration as there is so much mistrust in the region.
After a concerted effort from the economics professors from across South Asia with the support of the World Bank, the 13th SAESM of economics students (selected based on top paper submissions) was successfully held in Kathmandu last week. The meet brings together students to share their research, learn from one another, participate in academic competition, and make friends from across the region. Despite regional dynamics, SAESM has never missed any year since its inception in 2004, and it may well be unique in that respect in South Asia.
Jeyaranjini lives near Kilinochchi in Northern Sri Lanka with her husband and daughter. They have been rebuilding their lives through the North East Local Services Improvement Project (NELSIP), which uses a Community Driven Development (CDD) approach to tailor projects based on community needs in this conflict affected region.
The project has helped build 611 km of roads, 23 km of storm drains, 400 community public spaces such as markets, parks, and playgrounds, as well providing improved access to water and electricity across Sri Lanka.
“Each community member used to be alone, but now we learn, exchange ideas, and make decisions together,” she said.
South Asia has a strong tradition of local participation
Let me offer a couple of other examples: Nepal’s Self Governance Act in 1999 decentralized services delivery to villages and districts. In Afghanistan, Community Development Councils (CDCs) receive funds, in which they then manage to support their villages.
In post-disaster contexts, CDD has shown to be fast, flexible and effective at re-establishing basic services. In fragile or conflict-affected states (FCS), the approach has also helped rebuild trust within communities, and between communities and governments.
Projects incorporating CDD approaches give control over planning and investments to community groups, and aim to empower communities to deliver services to the poor and vulnerable.
CDD principles can contribute to the realization of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), a roadmap for the international development community to promote sustainable economic, social, and environmental development by 2030.
Currently, the World Bank has 41 active CDD projects worth $6.1 billion in South Asia, including 21 projects in India worth $4.2 billion.
“… If women in rural areas had the same access to land, technology, financial services, education and markets as men, agricultural production could be increased and the number of hungry people reduced by 100-150 million …”
Agriculture Sector: Creating Opportunities for Women
In Afghanistan, agriculture continues to be the backbone of the rural economy – about 70% of the population in rural areas is engaged in on-farm activities. At the same time, large share of the employment generated in non-farm and off-farm sectors, such as manufacturing, are also closely linked to agriculture and food-processing.
Women’s participation in the labor market has been generally low in rural Afghanistan. For the last decade, the country had one of the world’s lowest rates (19%). In recent years, however, the rural labor market in Afghanistan has experienced an impressive influx of women, increasing the rate to 29%. Yet, a large share of the working-age female in rural Afghanistan (71%) remains out of the labor force. In 2013/14, out of 5.2 million women of age 14 or above, only 1.5 million (29% of total) were in the labor force, about one-third of that 1.5 million workers remained unemployed, and the other two-third were employed – which accounts for only 22% of total rural employment (Figure 1). Of the employed female workers, majority are employed in agriculture (11%) and livestock (59%).