By Kate Roff
Being a woman in war-torn Afghanistan is difficult. Life expectancy is 52 years, the average woman has 6 live births, and 85% of women illiterate. But peace-builders say women are Afghanistan's future.
Digital Citizen Fund provides IT training for women and girls in Afghanistan, and has trained over 10,000 women in their I.T. centers in Kabul and Herat. Co-founder Elaha Mahboob told Peace News that the difference technology is making in women's roles in society is inspiring.
“Most importantly, day by day, Afghan women are relying economically on themselves - things that were completely prohibited during the Taliban regime,” Ms Mahboob said.
Advocacy organization War Child has worked in Afghanistan for 15 years, and founder Dr Samantha Nutt told Peace News that literacy and vocational training for women has been an important tool for empowering women in the region. War Child facilitates loans for women impacted by war to start businesses.
"The women in our program who come from very poor parts of the country and are the most vulnerable, have about a 99% repayment rate on those inputs to their businesses so it's really impressive," Dr Nutt said.
Strengthening women's rights has been linked to building peace.
Najia Nasim, from Women for Afghan Women, said giving women confidence to advocate for themselves is a key component to peace-building.
"They are a citizen of the country, so they should be given that right - to talk about the peace,” Ms Nasim said.
"That gives them the confidence, that they are also a part of that peace-building, and they will also value that peace," she said.
"I think women - even in their community - if their voices are heard, will often be a voice for peace, a voice for discussion, and negotiation," said Kathleen Campbell, from Women for Women International.
"I mean, it's true everywhere in the world, if we want to solve these issues, we can't leave half the population out,” Ms Campbell said.
Experts say empowering women is a long-term peace strategy.
"In order to sustain these gains, that bring real long-lasting peace, women must play an active role in the peace and reconciliation process,” Ms Mahboob said.
"The more we are promoting and contributing to women in those leadership roles, strengthening civil society - I mean, that, to us - is really what lays the foundation for peace in many of those environments,” said Dr Nutt.
While women's rights have improved in Afghanistan in the last 15 years, an increase in conflict in the last few years is delaying progress.
Ms Campbell and Ms Nasim both said security issues are limiting the advancements in women’s rights in the country.
"With the insecurity, it means people are more hesitant to bring, to let, to have women and children going out," Ms Campbell said.
"There are times we have to cancel a trip because there's insecurity on the road, there's insecurity in the community, or the community themselves tells us 'best to stay away right now'," she said.
Cover Photo: DVIDSHUB
* Statistics supplied by UN Data, WHO, and CIA World Factbook