By Najla Ayubi
Despite impressive efforts made since the Taliban was overthrown in late 2001, life remains extremely difficult for women in Afghanistan. The Asia Foundation’s annual Survey of the Afghan People has provided insight into some of the issues women face.
A lack of education for women has consistently polled as the biggest problem, reaching a high of 49 percent in our 2009 survey, followed by the lack of employment opportunities, at 28 percent in 2009.
Many factors exacerbate these problems. Just 23.5 percent of Afghanistan’s population above age 15 is literate, and the literacy rate for women is far worse at 12.6 percent. Afghanistan’s enrollment of girls in primary schools, at 36 percent, is also low for the region.
Despite these dismal figures, Afghanistan has experienced a few major achievements in education for women, including the adoption of certain guarantees in the constitution and the unprecedented enrollment of 2.2 million girls in primary schools.
Unemployment, the second biggest problem Afghan women face, rose from 31 percent in 2008 to 35 percent in 2009. Low literacy rates, a lack of professional skills, issues over women working with men, and poor security all contribute to the problem.
Public awareness programs that reinforce the Islamic notion that all men and women should have access to knowledge in order to mitigate discrimination against women are critical. Such programs could be implemented by religious scholars and clergies, civil society organizations, or
The Afghan government must address these problems. They could do so by working to: improve women’s education, provide better training for female teachers, encourage parents to send their daughters to school, foster public awareness to mitigate discrimination, and expand vocational training opportunities.
Najla Ayubi is a Program Director for Law, Human Rights, and Women’s Empowerment with The Asia Foundation in Afghanistan and a former judge and commissioner with the Independent Election Commission of Afghanistan. Photo by Susan Marx
May 2009 marked the end of Sri Lanka’s 25-year civil conflict that left thousands dead and many more displaced. As the displaced return home, much work needs to be done to heal the wounds that communities have endured.
To help communities affected by conflict-related violence, The Asia Foundation is partnering with two local NGOs—the Family Rehabilitation Centre (FRC) and Shanthiham (The Association for Health and Counseling)—on a program called RESIST, or “Reducing the Effects & Incidents of Trauma,” which helps increase access to psychosocial services.
Over the last four years, the program has supported Tamil,
Sinhala, and Muslim communities, including war widows, bomb blast survivors, trauma and torture survivors, and internally
With support from USAID and the European Commission, the program provides counseling and medical support (including physiotherapy), yoga and relaxation techniques, raises awareness, and makes referrals to other services.
Working alongside existing government services such as mobile mental health clinics, RESIST fills a particular gap with its holistic, long-term approach to counseling. Part of the program’s success is from the development of client-intake forms to gather demographic information from clients and to assess their ability to perform key life tasks. Unlike with some other counseling programs, a client’s family members may attend all RESIST programs.
The Foundation is also supporting a six-month outreach diploma course in counseling for 40 psychosocial volunteers working in the Internally Displaced Persons’ welfare centers in Vavuniya, a front line town for conflict during the war. These volunteers will continue to work with the displaced families upon return to their original villages.
By Diana Fernández, Nirjan Rai, and Geoffrey Swenson
The Himalayan mountain range is reportedly warming at a rate three times faster than the rest of the planet, and the debate on potential impacts of this crisis is reverberating throughout Nepal and South Asia.
Glacial melting can cause potentially dangerous floods and negatively impact rivers that traditional, small-scale farmers have relied on for centuries for irrigation. Unfortunately, there has been limited effort from governments of the region, including Nepal, to tackle this issue in a coordinated, informed fashion. What little has been done, writes Assistant Editor Smriti Mallapaty in a recent issue of Himal Southasian magazine, “has gravitated toward adapting to the emerging emergencies, rather than a staged approach … to mitigate climate transformation.” The Asia Foundation supported the special double issue of the magazine, which focused on climate change and its significant effects on South Asia.
The same issue of Himal Southasian highlighted the profound threat posed by climate change to the entire region of South Asia. Bangladesh is considered one of the places most vulnerable to climate change and thus faces potentially devastating consequences, including massive internal and external displacement.
Given the increasing demand for energy and the vulnerability of South Asian countries to natural resource exploitation, increased awareness about the need for action to address these issues across the region is essential.
The authors are program staff in The Asia Foundation’s Nepal office. Photo by Mr. Helmut Blauth
Recently, The Asia Foundation was invited by the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) to serve on the International Contact Group (ICG) to support the next stage of peace negotiations between the Philippine government and the MILF to end conflict in Mindanao.
The ICG is comprised of a select number of countries and international NGOs. The Asia Foundation will network with stakeholders in the negotiation, coordinate with the Facilitator (Malaysia) to provide research input, and give feedback and advice for the peace process.
For more than 30 years, The Asia Foundation has led successful programs in Mindanao and has identified peace and development there as among the highest priorities for the Philippines. Joining the ICG is a landmark for the Foundation’s conflict work, enabling our conflict experts to play a direct role in the formal GRP-MILF peace process.
As the national May 2010 presidential elections draw near, transitioning the peace talks safely from the current to the next administration is a critical topic. The Asia Foundation held a public forum on February 24 entitled “Sustaining a Peace Process: Lessons from Peace Processes in Hard Times” in partnership with the Institute of Bangsamoro Studies. Featured speakers included Sagar Prasai, Zoran Milovic, and Ky Johnson, Asia Foundation Deputy Country Representatives from Nepal, Afghanistan, and the Philippines, respectively, and Tom Parks, the Foundation’s Director for Conflict and Governance. The Forum provided perspective on carrying out conflict management programs in other countries and on a regional basis.
Leopold Sudaryono, Law Programs Coordinator, Indonesia
The Asia Foundation has played a key role in supporting significant reforms in the Indonesia justice sector. As The Asia Foundation’s Law Programs Coordinator in Indonesia, Leo Sudaryono has been the point person for many of these programs over the last four years.
Of these programs, he is most proud of overseeing the Blueprint for Corrections Service Reform program. “The program will improve prison management and reduce inmates overstaying their detention periods which will eventually change inmate’s lives for the better,” Sudaryono says.
Prisons across the country suffer from severe overcrowding, overstaying, violence, corruption, and disease. To address these issues, the Foundation worked with the Directorate General of Corrections to develop the blueprint, which maps out reform objectives, identifies challenges, and prioritizes action steps.
“The Ministry of Law and Human Rights has adopted the document as legally binding policy to be used to shape the reform process within ten years,” Sudaryono explains.
Sudaryono came to the Foundation from Oxfam GB Indonesia. A former lawyer, he has deep interest and insight on human rights, legal aid, and community development. “I was a young lawyer at the Jakarta Legal Aid Institute when I first heard about the good work of The Asia Foundation,” he says. Now as part of the Foundation program staff, he says, “being amongst experts from various areas in the Foundation’s Indonesia office is really a privilege.”
Afghanistan Girls’ Education Matching Grant Successfully Completed
Thanks to the generosity of our donors, the Women’s Empowerment Program successfully raised $80,000 to secure two matching grants made by the National Geographic Society and the Sheridan-Urbanski Family. The combined funds of $160,000 will provide thousands of Afghan girls access to a better education and the opportunity to study in improved educational facilities that have better equipped classrooms and more educational materials. The project will be underway shortly – please visit our website, www.asiafoundation.org, for updates on this and other exciting Women’s Empowerment programs.
David R. Andrews and Franklin Tugwell Join Asia Foundation Board of Trustees
The Asia Foundation welcomes Mr. David R. Andrews and Franklin Tugwell to our Board of Trustees. David R. Andrews is a returning member, previously serving from 2001-2009. His esteemed legal career and public service contributions span decades. Currently he is the co-chairman and co-founder of MetaJure, Inc. Franklin Tugwell has served as the President and CEO of Winrock International since 1999. Dr. Tugwell received a PhD in political science from Columbia University. Additionally, he serves on the Advisory Board and International Committee of the American Council on Renewable Energy.
Thanks to the thousands of people who chose books and helped change lives for students at marginalized schools in Thailand, Bangladesh, and Mongolia through our successful book vote campaign. Watch more videos.
Hundreds of submissions to our Flickr Group, “Your Changing Asia 2010 Photography Contest,” were narrowed to six stunning photographs depicting change in Asia over the past decade. Our Facebook fans then voted and chose the winning photograph [above] taken in Tokyo by El-Brandon Brazil.