Despite the persistent Taliban terrorist attacks, Afghanistan is a nation that continues to make considerable progress. This report sheds light on such progress in 2016– specifically pertaining to women’s achievements.
The most encouraging advancement is the falling infant, child and maternal mortality rates in Afghanistan. For infants, the rate has dropped from 66 to 45 deaths for every 1,000 live births according to a recent Afghan government study. Additionally, the number of deaths has decreased from 87 to 55 for every 1,600 children under the age of 5. The maternal mortality rate is also falling from 1,000 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births to 400 per 100,000, according to UNFPA. As mortality rates are decreasing, there has been an increase of midwives in Afghanistan. Since 2002, the number of midwives has increased from 467 to over 4,000. The heightened access to midwives in Afghanistan has played a key role in lowering the rates of maternal death, and overall bettering healthcare for women and children.
An amazing and creative endeavor this year has been the introduction of an Afghan ‘Sesame Street’ muppet called Zari. Zari promotes girls’ empowerment, health and emotional well-being. This program, funded by the U.S. State Department, is helping change societal and cultural norms and vigorously promotes girls’ education, one child and one parent at a time. Zari is one muppet among many featuring international characters from a host of nations. The muppets help to shape both girls’ and boys’ opinions about themselves, their self-confidence and provide a fun, early learning experience.
Additionally, women are being encouraged to participate and are actively taking roles in STEM work. One example of this is the Fereshta Forough’s Code to Inspire organization that opened in Herat, Afghanistan. It is a women-only code school that aims to enhance economic and social progress through the hands of women in Afghanistan’s tech industry. Another technological advancement is that cell phones are everywhere. Some 80% of Afghan women now have regular or occasional access to mobile phones according to a 2014 study.
This expansion of technological access is an outstanding feat considering the fact that very few people had access to phones in 2002. There are now distance learning literacy programs, sponsored by USAID, and mobile health apps for use during pregnancy and other health conditions. In 2016, Farishta Habibzai, an Afghan woman from Kabul University created an app utilized to combat street sexual harassment targeting women. With the app, women experiencing this harassment are then able to send their location to the police, friends and family, increasing their safety and access to the criminal justice system.
On the frontier of women and sports, female Afghan cyclists have started a club with more than 50 members. The Afghan Women’s Cycling Team actively challenges gender norms and assumptions associated with women’s athletic ability. They can be found cycling from the streets of Kabul to the mountains of Bamiyan. The team was nominated for a Global Peace Prize. Also pushing the boundaries of Afghan women in sports was Kamia Yousufi, who represented Afghanistan in the women’s 100 meter track and field during the 2016 Rio Summer Olympics.
While progress has been made, gains for Afghanistan women and girls remain fragile.