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Afghan Women Socio-economic Status and Gender Equality in Afghanistan

Hamidullah Bamik

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Gender inequality refers to unequal treatment or perceptions of individuals based on their gender. It results from differences in socially determined gender roles and through the biological differences between men and women we discussed in the earlier session. While gender equality is a basic right that does not require economic justification, gender equality is a key factor in contributing to the economic growth of a nation. Because women account for one-half of a country’s potential talent base, a nation’s social and economic development in the long term depends on whether and how it educates and engages women in the economy.

The Economic and Social Council of the United Nations has defined gender mainstreaming as follows: “Mainstreaming a gender perspective is the process of assessing the implications for women and men of any planned action, including legislation, policies or programs, in any area and at all levels. It is a strategy for making women’s as well as men’s concerns and experiences an integral dimension of the design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of the policies and programs in all political, economic and societal spheres so that women and men benefit equally, and inequality is not perpetuated. The ultimate goal is to achieve gender equality.”

Gender mainstreaming is a process of assessing the impact for women and men of any planned action, including legislation, policies or programs, in any area and at all levels. It considers women and men’s concerns and experiences in the design, implementation, and monitoring and evaluation of policies and programs in all political, economic and social spheres to promote gender equality. Government officials and elected representatives who are involved in policy formulation, project planning, preparation of budgets, program implementation and review are responsible for gender mainstreaming

The government of Afghanistan is committed to promoting women rights as enshrined in the Constitution approved 2004 and in international treaties and conventions, including the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) that was signed by Afghanistan in 1980 and acceded in 2003, the Millennium and subsequent Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and United Nations (UN) Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace, and Security. The National Action Plan for the Women of Afghanistan (NAPWA) 2007-17 is the Afghan government’s plan for implementing its commitments on gender equality and women’s empowerment. Specific goals include:

-The elimination of discrimination against women and the development of women’s human capital and female leadership.

-NAPWA implementation focuses on sectors that are critical to improve the women’s situation: security, legal and human rights, leadership and political participation, economy, work and poverty, health and education.

-To realize the government’s gender equality commitments, gender is a cross-cutting in strategic and policy documents such as the ANDS/ANPDF, the NPPs.

Legal and Policy Framework for Gender Equality in Afghanistan

In Afghanistan there have been a number of systematic efforts to mainstream gender into the development process since 2001. The Bonn Agreement of 2001 setting the course for the new Afghanistan nation and government included a commitment to mainstreaming gender issues endorsing the establishment of “a broad-based, gender-sensitive, multiethnic and fully representative government”. The Agreement lay the foundation for several institutional developments including the drafting of a new constitution and the establishment of a Ministry of Women’s Affairs (MoWA) responsible for mainstreaming gender into the policies and programs of the ministries to ensure that gender equity concerns are addressed. The Afghanistan constitution, ratified on January 4, 2004 promotes gender equality when it states: “Any kind of discrimination and distinction between citizens of Afghanistan shall be forbidden. The citizens of Afghanistan, man and woman, have equal rights and duties before the law.” (Article 22) The Afghan National Development Strategy (ANDS) provided the development framework for the nation across the key areas of security, governance, economic and social development.  The ANDS (2008 – 2013) vision for promoting gender equality across government is the “promotion of women’s advancement is a shared obligation within government and it is a collective responsibility of all sectors, institutions and individuals to include women or gender concerns in all aspects of government work – from policies, to budgets, programs, projects, services and activities, including recruitment, training, promotion and allocation of benefits and opportunities.”

Afghan Government’s Policy Role for Socioeconomic Development of Women and Girls in the Society

The government policy can facilitate women’s labor force participation including in the government as civil servants. Many governments now institute policies that encourage women to work and make it easier for them to do so. Maternity, paternity and parental leave are closely associated with women’s economic participation in many parts of the world. Parental benefits enable mothers, fathers or both to take paid or unpaid time off to care for a child following birth can increase women’s participation in the workforce and foster a more equitable division of childrearing. Childcare is an important factor in allowing women to reconcile professional and family obligations because women tend to bear the majority of the caregiving responsibilities in most countries. For example, a well-established daycare system can support women in employment, thereby improving the efficiency of labor markets. Legislation can help to prevent gender-biased discrimination in society and create an enabling environment to support women through, among other policies, obligatory and voluntary quotas in public and private entities, targeted subsidies to female businesses, anti-harassment and affirmative action and supervisory bodies monitoring the implementation of national policies.

Increasing Women’s Participation in the Civil Service in Afghanistan

In January 2018, the Independent Administrative Reform and Civil Service Commission (IARCSC)of Afghanistan proposed a new government wide policy on equal employment opportunities for women in government. The new policy entitled “Policy on Increasing Women Participation in Civil Service” is designed to help overcome gender related discrimination in the work place. The implementation of the policy will help to resolve the problem of discrimination and biased employment opportunities.  “A discriminatory approach in employment opportunities particularly towards women violates the principles of effectiveness, ownership of activities and justice. Therefore, it is the responsibility of all to manage the working environment and employment procedures in a manner that helps to remove this fundamental issue in the civil service sector of the country,” stated the IARCSC Commissioner regarding the new policy.

“Gender equality is an individual and social responsibility for all of us. These types of policies will ensure that we all change our ideas and change our actions,” stated the head of the complaints board of the IARCSC. The increasing women’s participation policy proposes a number of actions to improve the processes and procedures for recruiting more women in the civil service, safety in the workplace, security and social security, these proposed actions will create an enabling environment to help recruit and retain more women in the civil service. The overall goal of the draft policy is to increase the role of women in government institutions to 30 percent of the total workforce within the next two years. Currently, women comprise about 22 percent of total employees of government institutions in Afghanistan.

Women and the Afghanistan Carpet Industry

Carpet weaving is an important part of Afghanistan’s history and culture and is known throughout the world for its quality. It is easy to set up a loom within the home and materials for carpet weaving are inexpensive and easy to obtain. Because of this, many Afghan women develop the skill and are able to generate income for their family without having to leave the home and children.

However, the lack of large-scale resources to cut, wash, and finish these carpets has prevented Afghanistan from fully capitalizing on one of its most valuable exportable commodities. Because there have been inadequate efforts from the government to create an enabling environment for carpet producers to do business, and a lack of investment in building the capacity of women who are involved in carpet weaving in business and marketing, much of Afghanistan’s carpets are exported for finishing and final sale. Pakistan has particularly benefited, where the government has invested and given tax credits for carpet production.

Due to the lack of investment in a predominantly female handicraft industry in Afghanistan, Afghans lose the full profit of their hard work and craftsmanship, and the country loses valuable economic resources in potential taxes and revenue generation, carpet sales to expand the national economy, and development of a sustainable domestic industry from which both men and women can benefit.

Afghan Women in Security Sectors

A recent report on gender responsive budgeting in fragile and conflict-affected states noted the risk that in post-conflict countries the attention to gender equality is usually focused on the social services with less gender-specific funding for sectors important for state- and peace-building like the security sector and economic recovery. This is important to consider in Afghanistan.

In Afghanistan, the security sector (mainly Ministry of Defense, Ministry of Interior, National Directorate of Security) represents more than 40% of the national budget.  The security sector development budget is fully funded by the international community.  The Tashkeel of the security sector is about half a million employees.  To date there has been some progress towards increasing women’s participation in the security sector including:

Ministry of Defense: Of 195,000 Afghan National Army representatives, 14,007 are women which is less than 1% of the total. In 2016, 400 women new recruits were studying in the National Military Academy. The Ministry of Defense is planning to increase the number of women in the Army by 5,000. A number of women within ANA have been given the opportunity to pursue higher education in universities. A number of women have also had the opportunity to use scholarships to pursue their higher education outside the country.

Ministry of Interior: Of a total 150,000 Afghan National Police, 3,269 are women (2,937 police and 389 civilian) currently working within the Ministry of Interior. 8,210 police women associations have been established within the ANP across the country with policewomen meeting regularly and discussing their challenges and finding solutions. The recruitment processes for policewomen have been good resulting in an increased number of women in ANP. There have been some technical capacity building efforts inside and outside country for police women. There have been some improvements in providing facilities such as women toilets, women changing rooms. In some provinces, the presence of women in the police headquarters has increased citizen’s trust in the police force particularly among women. Women contact policewomen regularly and seek their support. In some provinces, policewomen have been successful in identifying and arresting insurgents wearing women clothing and identifying security threats, smugglers of narcotics and guns as well as those engaged with robbery and abduction of citizens.

National Directorate of Security: 700 women are currently working with the National Directorate of Security across Afghanistan. Capacity building initiatives have been conducted such as courses on improving English language, driving skills and first aid skills for women. Some women have been promoted.

Despite the progress to date, challenges remain in an effort to empower women and increase their participation in the security sector. These challenges include: 1) weak recruitment campaigns and a prevailing attitude within ANSF that women lack capacity to do specific roles; 2) Due to discrimination in a male dominated sector, there has been little efforts to put forth plans for promoting women and assigning them to more leadership roles; 3) Women often have not received weapons and equipment despite being trained to use them and often have not received uniforms; 4) Women still lack access to changing rooms and ladies toilets and child care services in police districts; 5)  Women in ANSF still face literacy, technical and capacity deficiencies.  While there have been some short-term training initiatives, the sector has not developed a long-term sustainable plan for training and capacity building of women in the security sector.

Afghan National Police: Although the tashkeel of the Afghan National Police (ANP) reserves jobs for female civil servants and police officers, women fill fewer than half these jobs. Many provincial chiefs of police are reluctant to accept female recruits. There is very little pressure on police chiefs to recruit more women, and the Ministry of the Interior, which oversees the ANP, to initiate reforms. Negative atti­tudes and practices persist after women have been recruited. Policewomen often lack basic items such as uniforms, which male colleagues receive. Many women find themselves performing menial tasks (such as making tea) and receive limited or no training opportunities to develop their careers, leaving intelligent and ambitious policewomen unmoti­vated and unfulfilled. Adequate measures to facilitate equal access, control and equal results of men and women entering the police force need to be implemented.

Recommendations

As a socioeconomic researcher, I am inclined to articulate that gender inequality is rooted in the cultural norms and values of Afghan society. So as to fight and challenge these rigid and male dominated cultural norms, the government of Afghanistan, and very particularly the educational sectors of Afghanistan should begin fighting with gender inequality from schools. Because schools are the main places where children learn cultural norms and embody them when they enter society later as civil servants and officers. Having said that I have the following suggestions for the Afghan government and responsible entities for addressing the issue of gender inequality:

First, introduce a new compulsory subject: Gender Education—aimed at developing a social and political understanding of gender in as part of the official school curriculum for both boys and girls, at the post-primary level in all state and central education boards. Explicit conversations and critical dialogues on gender bias and power should officially become part of the student experience. Defining Gender Education as a standalone curricular subject will give it legitimacy and create a stronger impetus for incorporating gender in the classroom. This will also necessitate the development of the requisite curricular and teacher materials, which the curriculum and teacher training department of Ministry of Education should create in collaboration with NGOs like the USAID Promote: Women in Government Project and other relevant governmental and non-governmental organizations.

Second, incorporate gender education compulsorily, in pre- and in-service teacher training and teacher education programs. Teachers are potentially powerful agents of social change, provided they can perceive themselves as such. Training in effective communication of gender-related issues with the community should also be included in pre-service training. All of the above implies intensive in-service training of teachers and educators, along with the development of teacher training materials and curriculum, which should be created by the Ministry of Education in collaboration with NGOs.

Together these commitments form a robust policy mandate that supports the integration of gender equality and empowerment programming in the post–primary education in schools across Afghanistan. At every social and political platform, there is a call to change deeply entrenched patriarchal ‘mindsets.’ School education is a good place to facilitate mindset change in a whole generation of boys and girls. To do this, it is time we made our curriculum truly progressive by including lessons in gender equality.

Hamidullah Bamik is a Fulbright Scholar, education policy analyst, and a social development researcher. His research focus is on girl’s education and women empowerment, gender equality, good governance, and socio-economic development in South Asia but particularly Afghanistan. He has worked with World Bank Capacity Building Projectsat Supreme Audit Office of Afghanistan from 2013 to 2018 as a capacity building consultant. Currently, he is working as a social development researcher at Asia Culture House, a non-profit cultural and art organization based in Kabul, Afghanistan. Additionally, he is a frequent contributor on sociopolitical, socioeconomic, and social developmentissuesto Outlook and Etilaatroz, the two leading Newspapers in Afghanistan, and Modern Diplomacy, a leading European opinion-maker with far-reaching influence across the Middle East, Africa, and Asia.

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PTI Government in Pakistan: To full-fill its promise on curbing Corruption

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Big achievements of PTI (Pakistan Tehreek-E-Insaf) Government in Pakistan. Corruption is an international phenomenon, especially among developing and underdeveloped countries. Corruption is a major hurdle in the fight against poverty and development. However, the beneficiary of corruption is still the developed world. The rulers from developing and underdeveloped world, transfer all their black money to developed countries and in the end, developed world enjoy out of their black money.

Pakistan, being a developing country, no exception to this curse. During the last few governments, it was very much visible. Either it was financial corruption of moral corruption, all are equally harmful to the country. Previous few governments, appointed corrupt and unqualified persons on key posts and used them as their front men in corruption.

Some of their front men were an evil genius and committed heinous crimes in such a technical manner that it is very difficult to find out evidence. Either it is fake accounts or various forms of money laundering or in the form of subsidies or government grants, commissions or kickbacks in projects or procurement, bribes or gift, all are the same but with different forms to harm the socio-economic of this country.

It was in the manifesto of PTI, and part of its slogan during the election campaign, to fight against corruption. Prime Minister Imran Khan in his speech on several occasions has promised with the nation that, he will fix all corrupt, irrespective of their status in the society. It is logical to start from the big fish and later on to common corrupt officials at junior levels.

Pakistan’s judiciary and the military are also on the same page and extending full support to the PTI government’s mission to eliminate corruption from this society once for all. The recent arrests are just the beginning of accountability and have to go on a long journey. May it take one term or even next term, but the accountability process must keep on going till the eradication of corruption completely.

Pakistan is under the heavy foreign-debt, worth US Dollars 100 billion approximately. Who took this huge loan? Have they worked out, how to pay back? Have they spent all the loans on the development of Pakistan? Why this loan has not been trickled down impact? Why this heavy loan could not improve Pakistan’s economy? How useful was this loan to common man of Pakistan? Why IMF could not improve the governance of Pakistan? Why IMF failed to improve performance of Pakistan? Why IMF could not give positive advice to Government of Pakistan? The lenders also need to be blamed for lending without any feasibility and failure of IMF packages offered to Pakistan during last one decade or so long. Why few families (rulers) become more rich and country become poorer?

If the sitting governments of that times have been borrowing without any planning or homework or without considering how to pay back, all of them must be held responsible for this heinous crime against the nation. Whether they are inside Pakistan or left the country, they must be arrested and brought back to face justice.

If only a few corrupt families are arrested and asked for the return of looted money, Pakistan can get rid of its major part of foreign-debt. We may not need any bailout package from the IMF or any help from any friendly country. All the looted money must be returned, all the illegal assets must be confiscated and suctioned out. All the recovered money must be used to pay back our foreign-debt.

There is no need to impose additional taxes and duties on the common man. Electricity, Fuel, Gas and consumer products may be kept on the original position. It is illogical that the common man, who is not responsible for the debt and still suffers due to the corruption of rulers.  It is desired, the previous rulers, who have pushed the country into economic chaos, should be held responsible and all damages need to be compensated by them only. There is no need to punish the whole nation for few criminals. Recovery from previous corrupt rulers is very much do-able and very much possible, above all very much desired. There are examples available in the world, how they recovered looted money from their big shots.  Saudi Arabia has done it well. China is a role model to be followed in this regard.  The Chinese government is willing to share its experience and expertise in fighting against corruption.

Our internal resources may be utilized fully to control corruption and recover all black money. Even if there is a need to introduce new legislation, the Government should not hesitate. Masses in Pakistan stands with Government on this issue. The government should move smartly in this direction with full strength and confidence. Public support is already there.  However, if the Government fails to accomplish this task, it may lose popularity.

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Gentlemen’s game or Propaganda? Cricket and the India-Pakistan Voices

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Can a sport be utilized as an effective propaganda tool? And if so, does it ideally mean that government intrusion is a necessity for its success? The answer to this question lies in the reflection of the cricket scenario in Asia. Although recognized as a gentlemen’s game, much can be said about its dichotomy as a weapon in the ever-growing war between India and Pakistan. Cricket propaganda has become a major trend over the past decade between the two countries as competition remains scarce with the political tensions and matches are seen as a great opportunity to reflect those political tensions. 

Recently, the tension between the two countries escalated with a suicide bombing attack sponsored by the terror group, Jaish-e-Mohammed in the Pulwama district of Jammu & Kashmir. This grave attack resulted in the death of 40 Central Reserve Police Force personnel, which in the opinion of the Indian government was an act of war leading them to raise the issue on the global platform. Surprising, one of the biggest acts of public response, with the usual backlash of the country’s rights over the Kashmir valley, was a call to abandon the upcoming match between the two countries following the start of the ICC cricket world cup. Although, the Modi government did conduct airstrikes against Pakistan, leading to a major confrontation between the two countries along the ‘line of control’ (the de facto border between the two countries), a large scale debate about whether India should abandon the game was a hotly debated topic in the country.

It is worth noticing that later the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), did hand over the matter to the Modi government, after which the decision was inclined towards the sportsmanship of the country, however, both the Indian cricket team and the BCCI were not ready to desert the will of the public that easily. Involved in an ODI series with Australia, the Indian team walked out wearing military caps as a sign of apparent solidarity with the troopers killed in the terrorist attack. Never before had Team India taken it upon themselves to spread such jingoistic propaganda on a global scale and make such overt statement. The rise of the protestors in Pakistan were met with official statements from the International body of Cricket (ICC), stating their approval as a means of “support” to the Indian team for a fund-raising effort for their fallen soldiers.  

Similarly, in an act of nationalistic fervor, the BCCI decided to get Pakistan banned from the upcoming world-cup prior to its commencement but was severely backlashed by the International Cricket Council (ICC), to keep politics away from the sanctity of the game. Although BCCI was unsuccessful in passing an unrealistic degree of order, given their large scale influence on the International body, it was clear that cricket had become an additional weapon of mass destruction and means of propaganda between the two countries.

So has the situation become better now? Recently, an Ad-war following the start of the world cup has emerged between the two countries, given their highly anticipated upcoming clash on the 16th of June. Ahead of the Sunday clash-guaranteed to put both the nations at a standstill- Star Sport’s Mauka ad ( loosely translated to a chance of winning) has captured the attention of the Indian fans, as the video has garnered over 2.5 million views after it was published on 10th June 2019. This video currently stands as a reprise an extension of the “Patakhe kab podhenge” campaign (clumsily translated to “When will be get to burn crackers”), wherein a Pakistani fan never gets a chance to burn his crackers as Pakistan is always defeated by India on a world cup stage, as indicated by the records as well. However, the new Mauka ad seems to recognize the importance of June 16th as Father’s day and does not fail to interject the role of India as a father in comparison Pakistan, as a means of cheeky humor which received large scale reaction from the Pakistani fans.

As a means of response, a Pakistani news channel Jazz Tv published a video with a character impersonating Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman, the Indian air force pilot who was captured, briefly held and then released under the pretense of the Geneva Convention. The character is seen sporting the pilot’s handlebar mustache with a fake South Indian accent and is dressed in the Indian team jersey, following which an interrogator asks him to give back the teacup he has been holding, as a means to denote how the cup belongs to Pakistan. This video was met with the usual support from the Pakistani fans and deemed ‘racist’ by the Indian fans, accounting to the portrayal of the esteemed pilot with a fake southern accent. Although, tension has been running high between the countries for some time now, both the nations have resorted to extending their tensions to the cricket pitch as well, ensuring large scale traction for their upcoming matches.

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Modi’s Operandi

Syed Nasir Hassan

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Same old Modi puts himself in throne again but with different mandate this time. This time he came with much force and appeared more vigilant. Sweeping an electoral win with more than 300 seats out of 543 and restricting Indian National Congress to mere 52 seats. This clearly shows that India gave priority to nationalism over any other set of idea. Prior to previous electoral year i.e. 2014,Modi lured with promises of social and economic reforms and upheaval. Which sunk badly as some of the predicaments are still in the society. From being miserable in improving the job sector that gave rise to unemployment rate to the inducing grieves to the farmers, Modi bagged some failures as well in his previous tenure.

Whereas this time bait was the Hindu nationalistic sentiments, which Mr. Modi and his members of the den enjoyed the feast by winning the election. By using hate mandate, Modi successfully maneuvered himself and his party in to the realms of Delhi. Before elections, his unfortunate adventurous voyage with its neighbor and rival Pakistan made a lucid chance to portray himself as heroic figure. Modi flaunted anger and hate towards its immediate neighbor. It profited him in shape of getting a majority in the lower house of the Indian political saga. Hate sentiments were provoked and inducted in common minds. Question herby rises that how Hindu nationalism can or will transform India?

During previous reign of Mr. Modi, clear social and religious divisions were drawn onto the Indian society. This was mechanized in recent elections as well by promoting nationalism or more likely Hinduism. One of the tactics that was opted by BJP and Modi is persuasion of fears of Indian society and Hindu ideology and presenting himself as the only savior. Modi portrayed himself as the only option for Hindu caste to save Hindu ideology from external threats.

Modi has always been fond of shifting Indian secular discourse towards a Hindu nationalist sermon. His previous tenure and the plight minorities faced during that time testifies his aims. Now he has been elected for another five years. This time he has secured almost 56% of the lower house that clearly means that Mr. Modi will have to face no hurdle in his way towards passing a legislation.

Media and Modi has always been close aides to each other. This nexus was also prominent in the recent elections as Social and Electronic media, both were eminent in glaring Modi-ism. It ultimately cultivated his ideology in the minds of a common viewer hence reflecting it in the election results. His election campaign was given more coverage than any other thing on TV. The election soap series continued feeding the people of the India. Without any doubt, there have been immense flow of monetary funds in the veins on Indian media during the election time.

Modi’s Bharatya Jantya Party or BJP’s Modi have already drawn a plan to be executed in the society. Selection of candidates that were given tickets and won were some of the most extremist in nature. Shakshi Mahraj, a newly elected member of parliament on BJP’s seat already has more than 30 criminal cases against him. Another newly elected BJP’s Member of Parliament, Pragya Singh Thakur remarked Mahatma Gandhi’s assassin as “a patriot”. Not only this, selections for new cabinet members clearly indicated where Mr. Modi would be leading Indian society. Amit Shah who is also a president of BJP has ironically been selected as India’s Home Minister. There is a clear chance thatnew reforms might be religion centric rather than being focused on governance. BJP will clearly exhibit the Hindu ideology in governance that would further raise concerns for the minorities in India.

The Indian future and the question of Indian minorities seems bleak. Modi created a narrative on abhorrence and nationalism, he won elections on this mandate but now he has to defend it and every word of hatred that came out of his mouth may be realized through his actions. It puts Indian society in a dismal situation.

It is arduous to analyze that how large populous has voted in favor of hate mandate prompted by Modi. But there is a chance that Indian society might be falling prey to reverse psychology. It indulged itself so deep and intense in criticizing and accusing its neighbor, Pakistan, for being extremist and conservative society that it itself is becoming one.

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