Empower women, empower a nation

This week, the US State Department released the first-ever Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (QDDR), which includes an unprecedented emphasis on the central role of women and girls in effective development and diplomacy. The QDDR is the first sweeping assessment and new blueprint for all of U.S. international assistance and diplomacy.

It’s fantastic to see the essential role of women so prominent in a US State Department report. Hurrah!

But it’s not enough.

When a girl in the developing world receives seven or more years of education, she marries four years later and has 2.2 fewer children
(United Nations Population Fund, State of World Population 1990). When women and girls earn income, they reinvest 90 percent of it into their families, as compared to only 30 to 40 percent for a man (Phil Borges, with foreword by Madeleine Albright, Women Empowered: Inspiring Change in the Emerging World [New York: Rizzoli, 2007], 13.). Empowering women in places in Afghanistan — giving them safe, easy access to primary and secondary education, to vocational training and to basic health services — improves the lives of everyone in the country. And, in addition, giving women a voice in defining and evaluating development goals is the ONLY way to ensure development activities meet the needs of women and children.

If you are an aid worker, you have to be committed to women’s involvement, no matter what the focus of your work is. I’m not a gender expert nor a women’s mainstreaming expert, but I have a commitment to mainstreaming the issues of women in my aid and development work. That means that, when I’m working as a reporting consultant, for instance, I’m going to kick back reports to the author’s if there’s no mention of how women were involved in whatever they are reporting about, or no explanation of why women were not involved. I’ve made many a male aid worker angry for doing that… Whether its a water and sanitation project, an infrastucture project, a weapons return program, an agricultural project, a governance project, whatever, you have to look for ways women to be involved in at least the decision-making and goal-defining.

As most of you know, I worked in Afghanistan for six months in 2007, and I’ve remained in contact with a few Afghan women in Afghanistan. They tell me that they cherish every inch of freedom they’ve enjoyed over the last eight years, and though it isn’t nearly as much as they hoped for — they still don’t have, in practice, equal rights to men (property ownership, wages, leadership roles, choice in marriage, choice in career, choice in number of children, etc.). They see on TV the freedoms and prosperity Muslim women enjoy in India, Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt, Indonesia, and other countries with large, even dominant, Muslim populations, and they see the prosperity of Muslims in those countries, and they ask, “Why not us?”

But I rarely see these women on TV news reports. I rarely hear women mentioned in news analysis on network TV, in newspapers, in political debates about Afghanistan, in US Government briefings… that’s like not mentioning black Africans or apartheid when discussing South Africa in the 1980s. If the 50% of the population being oppressed, tortured, killed, denied even basic human rights, were an ethnic group or a religious group, the outrage would be oh-so-loud and constant. But women? Suddenly oppression is a cultural thing we have to respect and not interfere with.

Some things regarding Afghanistan that have gotten my attention lately, and are worth your time to read:

I’ve blogged about this before. I guess I’m going to keep blogging about it until things change…

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