Five years on from their initial implementation, questions are being raised about the reality of of the Sustainable Development Goals in places of extreme poverty. This month, we're taking a closer look at Sustainable Development Goal 5, examining how our projects strive towards Gender Equality in Afghanistan, and the challenges we face.

Sustainable Development Goal 5, 'Achieve Gender Equality and Empower all Women and Girls', is certainly in the spotlight at the moment: this March, we've celebrated both International Women's Day and Women's History Month. In the spirit of campaigning for a more equal future, we've been reflecting on how our programme designers and staff on the ground ensure gender equality is at the heart of everything we do, whilst working in one of the most challenging parts of the world.

What is SDG 5?

Women make up half of the world's population, but persisting gender inequality is causing widespread stagnation in social progress. SDG 5 is composed of 9 targets, which range from ending all forms of discrimination and violence against women, to ensuring access to sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights, and undertaking reforms to give women equal rights to economic resources. 

And what about Afghanistan?

Afghanistan remains one of the worst places in the world to be a woman. Ranking among the least favourable on the Gender Inequality Index, women and girls in Afghanistan continue to face widespread discrimination and hardship.

Afghanaid and SDG 5: Women's Empowerment in Challenging Environments

Despite the task at hand, here at Afghanaid we're striving to make gender equality a reality in Afghanistan.

Within both our stand alone women's empowerment projects and our broader work, we're:

  • Working to end discrimination and violence against women.
  • Helping to initiate shared responsibility in the household.
  • Creating space for female leadership opportunities and involvement in decision making.
  • Bringing reproductive health education to communities in Afghanistan. 

We're currently delivering a large-scale project funded by UK Aid Direct which, over the course of 4 years, will support over 10,500 women to become both economically and socially empowered. The project works in 3 phases:

Phase 1: 

In Afghanistan, patriarchal structures ensure that women and girls are often excluded from education - the female literacy rate remains worryingly low at 30%, which is 25% lower than the male literacy rate. This compounds poverty as it means women are unable to contribute to household income, or help when times get tough for their families.

To combat the barriers preventing women from earning an income, we are first putting vulnerable women through literacy courses and a vocational education programme of their choosing, such as dairy processing, sewing, or poultry-rearing training. At the same time, we're supporting women to form Self-Help Groups, through which enterprise development and financial management training is delivered. This provides women with a unique space to socialise, share, and learn.

Phase 2:

When women contribute to the household income, it raises their status in the home, as they gain respect from the male members of their community and family. This heightened respect paves the way for greater female involvement in family and community decision making, as their opinions become more valued. Household responsibility becomes shared, which is vital for increasing the likelihood of their daughters attending school, as well as creating the space for female leaders in the community. 

We'll also be providing some members of each Self-Help Group with training in group management, human rights, leadership, and women's empowerment, enabling them to lead discussions on social issues, women's rights, and community governance among their peers. Using a peer-to-peer delivery structure helps develop the confidence and ability of these women to become leaders, positioning them as future members of community governance institutions. Our peer-to-peer schemes are also central to initiating a sense of local ownership, which is crucial to ensuring sustainable change.

Phase 3

We will deliver training in hygiene, nutrition, reproductive health and family planning. As well as this, some men and elder women in community groups will be selected to be trained as reproductive health rights mobilisers to carry out peer-to-peer training. 4 teachers in each school will also be given the training and materials to teach reproductive health rights to school students. This helps break down barriers to accessing family planning services which are crucial to decreasing maternal mortality and improving the health of infants and children.

“Afghanaid is not only helping to increase the knowledge of the women in my community - with their help, everyone, men and women, boys and girls, are realising what women can really do, and what they should have the opportunity to do, so now each of us can achieve our full potential.”

Maria has been elected as the leader of a Self-Help Group, and will lead discussions with women in her community on women's rights and local issues. 

What challenges do we face in achieving SDG 5 in Afghanistan by 2030?

The results from our previous women's empowerment programmes speak to the success of initiatives that empower women to drive lasting change and gender equality.

But these projects do not run without challenges. What makes the SDGs ambitious is that they are intended to be realised in 2030 by all countries, everywhere, regardless of the differing levels of pre-existing development. Ranking 170 out of 189 on the Human Development Index, Afghanistan faces greater, more complex challenges than elsewhere - enduring conflict as well as an increase in the existence of natural hazards and climate induced disasters compromise the stability of the conditions we work under.

To instigate widespread sustainable change, changes in perceptions of a woman's value and attitudes to women's rights must occur at the community level. Nonetheless, the ambition of the SDGs, and their aim at larger structural inequality mandates that every component of society work collaboratively to achieve each of the targets. Which is why we work both at the grassroots level, as well as through partnerships at all levels.

Despite the challenges at hand, we will continue adapting and working alongside like-minded development organisations, branches of national and local government and ordinary people to respond to these challenges and keep doing our part to make SDG 5 a reality in Afghanistan by 2030.

How can you help achieve SDG 5 in Afghanistan?

You can play a key role in reaching more women across the country, and help build a gender equal Afghanistan:

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