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?
Today marks International Women’s Day throughout the world. Here in Nepal, it is a joyful tribute to the fact that the country boasts three women holding key leadership positions in the country – Bidhya Devi Bhandari as President, Sushila Karki as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, and Onsari Gharti Magar as Speaker of the Parliament.
All three are the first women to hold their respective posts, and the Chief Justice, especially, has been lauded as a bold and independent decision-maker.
The Constitution of Nepal 2015 has been a huge improvement from the days of yore: Article 43 deals with the rights of women that include rights to lineage, right to safe maternity and reproduction, right against all forms of exploitation, and equal rights in family matters and property.
The Government of Nepal is also working to incorporate gender equality in all development policies and programs, including developing a gender responsive budget system.
We also have excellent examples of women making great leaps in almost all fields – science, economics, banking and finance, media, environment, education, public health, social service and development.
And in a heartening move, Chhaupadi, an inhuman practice that imposes upon women to stay outside their homes in unhygienic cow sheds during menstruation and childbirth, is set to be criminalized in the new legal code.
However, progress made in specific fields has not yet contributed to the overall improvement in girls’ and women’s lives across the country. Similarly, plans and policies do not always spur positive changes in reality.
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.
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.
My visit to Pakistan began last week at the enormous Tarbela dam. Straddling the Indus River, this earth- and rock-filled structure is almost 500 feet high and 9,000 feet wide. It is a monument to Pakistan's scientific and engineering ability. It also illustrates the opportunities and challenges facing Pakistan.
I was last in Pakistan in 2011 and I can see that big changes have happened since then.
The country has worked through three tough years that brought improvements in security and a more stable economy. Much of the economic growth has benefited poor people and Pakistan's levels of inequality compare favourably to many middle-income countries.
Speaking to leaders in government, political parties, civil society, the private sector and various thought leaders, I sensed an optimism that the country had found its footing and is moving up the ladder of development.
This optimism is good news. But optimism needs to be supported by actions. Pakistan can move to a higher level of economic growth that reaches all parts of society, including the most marginalised, and thus fulfilling the dreams of a better life for all.
Three opportunities and challenges for Pakistan
In my discussions with the government in Pakistan we focused on three areas of opportunity and challenge: the first is higher growth and jobs. The government wants annual economic growth of 6 to 7 per cent compared to 4.7 per cent achieved in fiscal year 2016. But this will only happen if investment doubles to 30 per cent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Investments in energy, such as Tarbela, to end constant power cuts, as well as improvements in the business environment, so that companies hire more people, will be critical to success. A more favorable environment for private investment would open up opportunities for women, youth, and the underserved.
I was in India a few weeks ago and had the chance to visit some rural schools in Uttar Pradesh. When I was there, I met a group of adolescent girls who could potentially help close the country’s gender gap.
These girls board at school, where they get nutritious meals and are able to focus on their studies. The program purposefully targets 11 to 13-year-old girls from poor households who cannot afford to send their daughters to school. Some girls are also at risk of being married off early.
By keeping the girls in school at this critical juncture, they have a chance at a better life.
Parents told me that many of the girls at this boarding school were underweight and malnourished when they arrived. As they studied and ate and slept well, they slowly gained weight and got taller. As their knowledge grew, so did they.
But how many of these girls will go on to fulfil their true potential and add to their family’s income by joining the job market?
The audience cheers as Wahidullah Zazai, 26, ascends the stage during the award ceremony for DEWAE, a program to promote innovation across the country under the Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) Sector Development Project. His winning innovation is the development of a registration system for hajis, or people who have traveled to Mecca as pilgrims.
He receives a certificate and $2,000 to fund his idea at the award ceremony, which is a highlight of the Innovative Support Program that encourages innovative thinking by awarding cash prizes ranging from $2,000 to $80,000 within various categories of competition. The program plans to deliver 187 awards through five rounds before the end of 2016.