As the war in Afghanistan approaches its final years and the
removal of all U.S. and NATO
troops scheduled for 2014, promoting the education of Afghan women should
become the central focus of U.S.
policy in the region. Increased female education in Afghanistan will create sustainable
and long-term stability and development.
For the past few decades Afghan women have been left out of mainstream society. The consequences have been detrimental. Essentially, excluding almost half of its population from participation in school, politics and the economy has caused significant problems throughout Afghanistan. The results include a high illiteracy rate, a low life expectancy and extensive poverty. Additionally, Afghanistan is plagued with one of the highest infant, child and maternal mortality rates in the world. For example, the child mortality rate for children under the age of five is 257 per 1,000 live births. Moreover, one in eight women dies from complications during pregnancy and childbirth. Life expectancy in Afghanistan is only 44 years.
Since the United States entered Afghanistan in 2001, billions of dollars have been spent on fighting the Taliban, stabilization, and reconstruction projects. The U.S. government claims that the reconstruction projects are crucial to its counterinsurgency strategy and for winning over the Afghan people. Yet the government agency in charge of tracking the projects cannot identify where exactly the money was spent. This causes big problems for the military strategy of the United States and leaves the U.S. unable to identify whether the projects are winning over the Afghan people. But the bigger issue is that perhaps the U.S. strategy is not the right one. Reconstruction projects will not address the issues plaguing Afghanistan such high illiteracy and high infant, child and maternal mortality rates. The strategy that the United States should pursue is one focused on educating women, which in turn will create sustainable and long-term stability and development.
One of the most powerful tools in overcoming the many challenges facing Afghanistan is through education with a specific focus on educating girls. Educating the women of Afghanistan is crucial for its development and stability for several reasons. First, an educated girl is more likely to teach her mother and eventually her children how to read. Educated adult women are more likely than men to promote education for their families and their communities. Secondly, when women are educated, the population and infant mortality are reduced while the quality of health increases. Additionally, an educated mother is less likely to condone or give her blessing for her son to join a terrorist organization. Likewise, before a man goes on Jihad it is important to receive permission from his mother; an educated woman is less likely to encourage this.
Therefore, the United States should channel money into development programs that work with locals to promote education. This can be done with USAID programs that are already training midwives in the region. The majority of the funds should be allocated to the rural areas because 80 percent of Afghanistan's 30,000,000 people live in rural areas. For any kind of development or humanitarian assistance, the locals, especially the elders, must be in charge of the decision making. Without creating personal relationships, befriending and understanding the needs of the locals, no outside organization or government will be successful in the region.
Educating girls in villages throughout Afghanistan will be a challenging task but one worth pursuing. With the Taliban opposing any education for females, many schools and female students have been attacked. Despite these setbacks, girls continue to attend school. After all, educating girls in Afghanistan is not a Western imposed value but rather something the locals themselves desire.
Basia Bubel is a graduate student at New York University.
This article was submitted for the atlantic-community.org's competition: "Empowering Women in International Relations." It coincides with the 10th Anniversary of UN resolution 1325 calling for an increased influence of women in all aspects of peace and security. The contest is sponsored by the U.S. Mission to NATO and the NATO Public Diplomacy Division.
You can read more submissions from the competition here.