The Department for International Development (DFID) must do more to improve the lives of women in Afghanistan who continue to suffer discrimination and abuse, MPs have demanded today.
Chairman of the International Development Committee, Rt Hon Sir Malcolm Bruce MP, said:
"The UK Government has talked a lot about women’s rights in Afghanistan, but it has not followed this up with enough practical action.
The treatment of women in Afghanistan after troops pull-out in 2014 will be the litmus test of whether we have succeeded in improving the lives of ordinary Afghans over the last ten years.”
Women in Afghanistan have made gains since the Taliban was ousted in 2001, but they continue to face enormous disadvantages. The status of Afghan women is amongst the worst in the world and eighty seven per cent of women experience some form of domestic abuse during their lifetime, according to the UN. Women who participate in public life also do so at significant risk to their safety.
The UK Government has said it is committed to protecting and promoting the rights of women and girls in Afghanistan and women’s and girl’s empowerment is a departmental priority for DFID globally. But the International Development Committee inquiry found too little practical evidence of this in DFID programmes or funding. The MPs call on DFID to combat violence against women through support for women’s shelters and legal services. DFID should also continue to ensure women and girls are a major focus for education and wealth creation spending.
Rt Hon Sir Malcolm Bruce MP added:
"DFID could be doing a lot more to help support women in Afghanistan. The Department should start by examining what programmes have been effective for women in Afghanistan, then draw up a plan to expand these programmes, while doing all it can to secure commitments from other donors, such as the US, the EU and the World Bank."
The UK Government has given DFID the lead in creating a viable state in Afghanistan – including focusing on improving governance and the rule of law and tackling corruption. However, the report points out that the future of Afghanistan is very uncertain with changes expected to its leadership, the withdrawal of international forces, little progress in achieving a political settlement to end the conflict and a reduction in overseas aid. DFID will need to be flexible and able to adapt if the security situation deteriorates, according to the Committee. The MPs argue that creating viable state may not be achievable in Afghanistan, but it is still possible to deliver development projects that help the Afghan people. The Committee is recommending that the UK Government reconsider the DFID’s focus on creating a ‘viable state’, giving greater emphasis to the provision of services and alleviating poverty. The Department must also continue to lead other major donors in pledging and disbursing aid so that there will not be any sudden drops in funding which might exacerbate an already fragile situation.
Rt. Hon Malcolm Bruce MP concluded:
"Many British soldiers have died or been injured in the attempt to give Afghanistan a better future."
The Afghan people want their country to succeed, and the UK should continue to support them with a major aid budget in the country after the troops leave.
"It is questionable whether DFID has the capacity to build a viable state but we should be able to deliver effective development."
Since the fall of the Taliban in 2001 there have been significant improvements in Afghanistan:
5.8 million children are now going to school compared to just 1million under the Taliban, 2.2 million of them girls compared to just 5,000 under the Taliban.
Approximately 57 % of the population can now access a health facility within one hour’s walk compared to just 9 % in 2002, and more than one in three pregnant women (36 %) receive antenatal care compared to only 16 % in 2003.
Mortality rates for children under age five have decreased by 40 % on 2008 and infant mortality has decreased by 30 %.
Economic growth has been strong, if uneven and largely driven by aid, with significant improvement in government revenue collection.
Over this period Afghanistan has received nearly $30bn in aid and approximately $250bn in support to the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF).
It has been agreed that responsibility for security across Afghanistan will gradually transfer from the ISAF to ANSF by the end of 2014. UK and other foreign troops will only be present in Afghanistan after this date as advisers and mentors.
The UK Government has announced that DFID’s programme in Afghanistan will be £178 million a year until 2015, having been increased in 2010 by 40%.