10 July 2012 — The international community and the Government of Afghanistan have just agreed on how to engage further in Afghanistan. This was a crucial outcome at a conference I recently took part in, gathering representatives from over 70 countries, civil society and international organizations in Tokyo on 8 July.
Participants decided to renew and monitor mutual commitments for Afghanistan’s long-term social and economic development by pledging US$16 billion in aid through 2015, with the Afghan Government pledging to tackle corruption resolutely.
This is a vital boost as Afghanistan continues its path towards assuming full responsibility for its future—including its security, governance and development.
The country has made huge strides comparing to its own recent past, when girls did not go to school at all, few boys got past third grade and incomes were at the bottom rungs of international subsistence levels. Afghanistan has experienced a four-fold improvement in the number of expected years of schooling and per capita income tripled in the past 10 years.
Women have seen advancements. Today, more than 20 percent of public civil servants are women, and girls make up 34 percent of the seven million children in school. From 2000-2011, adolescent fertility rates decreased 40 percent and maternal mortality rates dropped 20 percent.
Yet, gains are fragile and huge challenges still need to be overcome. The average Afghan woman can only expect to live 44 years, less than 15 percent can read and write and only around 5.8 percent of women (25 years and older) have secondary education—compared to 33 percent of men. Moreover, violence remains widespread: nearly 87 percent of women experience at least one form of violence in their lifetime.
Several areas of the UN Development Programme (UNDP)’s work are fundamental bricks for the foundation of long term development and stability. Working with the Ministry of Interior, UNDP has been supporting sub-national governance and enhancing police forces at national and community levels—including by recruiting and training 1300 female police officers. UNDP’s work also led to women holding nearly 28 percent of parliamentary seats, above the global average of 20 percent. Since 2002, UNDP has helped complete more than 2,300 rural infrastructure projects, providing wages for approximately 3.8 million working days and benefiting over 14 million Afghans.
In the long run, despite working in one of the riskiest environments on Earth, UNDP and the UN family will continue to stand with the people of Afghanistan, as they have done for many decades, so that Afghans take greater control over their own security and development.