Afghanistan's future starts by investing in women

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Afghanistan's future starts by investing in women Afghanistan's future starts by investing in women

Continued international aid, including through the Afghanistan Reconstruction Trust Fund (ARTF), is vital to create better lives for millions of Afghans and sustain development gains. The #ProtectTheGains series highlights ARTF projects that have made a real difference toward achieving a more prosperous, inclusive, and peaceful Afghanistan.

As a member of her Community Development Council and Vice-Chair at the Gozar Assembly in Afghanistan's Herat City, 32-year old Zahra Hussaini has become a strong advocate for her community.

An elected representative, she has gained valuable leadership skills and improved her self-confidence. In her role, she also acquired intellectual and economic freedom—and the drive to advance the cause of other women.

Under the Citizens' Charter Program, thousands of Afghan women have seized the opportunity to shape the lives of millions of their fellow citizens by playing an active role in local development and governance. 

The Citizens' Charter Program is the successor program to the National Solidarity Program (NSP), which pioneered a community-driven approach to development projects through Community Development Councils or CDCs. The Councils provide a high level of scrutiny and transparency to projects to help achieve better results.  Half of the council seats are occupied by women, giving them a platform to participate in decision-making and a forum to voice their opinions. 

While the Charter relies on a quota system to ensure fair representation, women’s’ inclusion in CDC activities, including in sub-committees, is uneven across Afghanistan. 

In some conservative rural areas, particularly those under the Taliban's control, the role of women in public affairs has been very limited. Convincing men to see the benefits of women participating in development decisions and monitoring government services will take time and patience.

Women's participation as Community Development Councils leaders and beneficiaries is part of the Charter's objectives.

In other places, women have fared better and their presence in local governance bodies, particularly in health and education sub-committees, been more accepted. According to a recent study by CARE International, CDCs and their sub-committees are increasingly viewed by Afghan men as legitimate spaces where they can work alongside women on development governance.   

The Afghan government's Score Card Initiative is of particular relevance as women's (and men's) monitoring of and feedback to education and health facilities is an empowering experience--especially when service providers respond to issues raised and improve services (e.g. teachers' attendance or following the intended schedule of the hours of operations).

The Score Card Initiative is designed to enable communities (including specific stakeholders) to assess and rate the services provided by the government through a simple but systematic approach and provide feedback to the government on services standards, create a dialogue between services users and services providers, and contribute to improved services provisions.

Rural communities often express concerns and even oppose men and women representatives working together in CDCs . Women often meet in spaces separate from men, even though the Charter encourages women and men—if and when the local context allows—to discuss and negotiate how government funds should be allocated to their communities.   

Women's participation as CDC leaders and beneficiaries is part of the Charter's objectives.  To succeed, the program needs to give women and men an equal voice in the design and implementation of projects that impact their lives and their communities.  

Photo: World Bank
Men and women members of a CDC gathered for a regular meeting to discuss their village development priorities.

In many areas, women are now involved in preparing community development plans, conducting social audits, and monitoring government service delivery, such as health and education.  Additionally, women receive training on specific initiates related to CDC work, such as the Women's Mobility Map, which draws attention to women's existing movements and enables women to negotiate attending CDC and Cluster CDC meetings. 

Another key exercise is the Leaking Pot. It highlights households' incomes versus expenditures and flags potential debts, such as costly weddings, bride prices, and funerals. For communities, the Leaking Pot is an opportunity to discuss how costs can be reduced individually and collectively.

There are nearly 12,000 women occupying leadership positions in rural Community Development Councils throughout Afghanistan 

CDC members are elected through a secret ballot process in their communities.  Although seats are reserved for them, women have to compete for votes to fill leadership positions. However, secret ballot elections are not always possible, particularly in areas under Taliban control. Ballot facilitators sometimes spend considerable time convincing community elders and influential men of the importance of voting without one's choices being revealed. There are nearly 12,000 women occupying leadership positions in rural CDCs throughout the country. 

The urban arm of the Charter works a bit differently. In big cities with large populations, four to five communities cluster to form a Gozar covering a larger geographic area. People elect their representatives to CDCs, and CDC members vote to elect Gozar Assemblies (GAs).

Women GA members from four major cities have implemented 88 livelihood and infrastructure subprojects for women, worth $1.76 million, and benefiting at least 5,000 women.  The subprojects have provided job opportunities, better infrastructure, and economic opportunities for women.

Afghanistan's future starts by investing in women
Afghan women casting their votes to elect their representatives for the Community Development Council (CDC) in one of the provinces.

Women members of CDCs/GAs have gone beyond their mandates to establish women's literacy and vocational courses ; set up women's saving groups, collected funds to help poor women meet wedding costs; promoted vaccination drives, girls' education initiatives, and hygiene education; and encouraged families to reduce costly wedding and funeral expenses. More than 1,000 women serve in CDC/GA leadership positions in urban parts of Afghanistan. 

In October 2019, women CDC members spoke with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and his cabinet on behalf of the communities they represented at the National CDC Consultative Conference in Kabul. They discussed a variety of topics about women in Afghanistan's development. Every National CDC Consultative Conference since 2005 has seen women from remote districts representing their communities to the nation's leadership and raising their voices and priorities for community development.

By having women lead alongside their male peers in rural and urban settings, we give a voice to half the Afghan population . Involving women in the decision-making process of their communities is an essential investment in the future of Afghanistan.  As a result, the nation will benefit from healthier citizens, improved education rates, and increased economic opportunities for both women and men.

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