Women’s Empowerment in Afghanistan: Education and Loans Aren’t the Solution

By Ben Mason
Elm Alumni Columnist

I don’t think investing in women and girls should ever be the first step to revolutionizing an authoritarian, fanatically religious state.

You’ll feel the same way after answering a short question for yourself: what’s really been keeping the women and girls from equal rights and the pursuit of happiness in places like Afghanistan? Is it really their lack of education? Without micro-finance loans, these women will never be in charge of their own lives? Yeah, tell that to the guy holding the automatic rifle.

The fact of the matter here is, no matter how smart and rich the women of a nation are, if they don’t have access to hard and soft military and political power, they’re going to be oppressed. Therefore, while investing in women and girls is essential for building a strong, egalitarian, modern community, steps shouldn’t be taken down that path at least until the militias have found other employment.

I was fortunate enough to hear Zainab Salbi (Founder of Women for Women International) speak at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. a few weeks ago. The following quote, however, is from her remarks to the press while in Afghanistan, speaking with ambassadors and other attendees:

“The organization [Women for Women International] strongly believes that women’s access to education plus their access to resources and control over resources can help them lead lasting change in their lives and that of their societies.”

I have a few problems with Salbi’s viewpoint. My first objection to her plan has already been expressed above: no amount of textbook or entrepreneurial knowledge will stop pre-teen, teenaged or adult women from being raped and robbed, period. The second part of her stance sounds good enough when the reader just glances at it. Doesn’t the control of a country’s resources help to elevate a group’s position in the social classes of that country? The only problem is, what man, in Afghanistan for example, wants to give up his dominance over said resources? Warlords are all male, and have a personal interest in staying in power. So what Salbi is really saying is that once a coalition of organizations convinces everyone in Afghanistan that women have the same inalienable rights as men, and everyone agrees to let them participate in all aspects of society, women’s lives and the lives of all Afghan people will be better off. Salbi is pointing to the painfully self evident conclusion that if women’s lives improve, their lives will be better.

So who exactly is Women for Women International targeting with their campaign? The organization reports assisting around 95,000 women in Afghanistan; “providing them educational training program[s], vocational and business skills training program[s], and income generating opportunities through micro-credit and other means.” Well there are only about 11.5 million women in Afghanistan, so you can see how wide-spread their impact is. And please, don’t remind me about the velocity of money, or how a few women making it in the working world can help others. Only 10 percent of micro-finance loans spur any kind of entrepreneurial activity (defined by the hiring of other workers), as reported by Women for Women. All of this, by the way, must be viewed from an American military perspective. The only reason this activity can even be conceived of is because we have boots on the ground. With the Taliban hiding in the hills, the United Islamic Front is free to rape and pillage their former stomping grounds, while those raped and pillaged by the Taliban try and rebuild. If things should go awry in the U.S.’s departure from the region, it is my belief that all of the progress made in the name of women’s rights will be undone in a spurt of savagery and oppression.

So what’s the alternative? Work from the top down. If a Roman emperor can be converted to Christianity, thereby making all of the other Romans okay with the religion, so too can the men of Afghanistan be taught that women should stand on equal footing with them. When the people holding the guns stop using them to violate the fairer sex and instead guard their life, liberty and pathways to the pursuit of happiness, we’ll know that we’re making progress: progress that won’t be extinguished by the next wave of insurgency in the region.

One thought on “Women’s Empowerment in Afghanistan: Education and Loans Aren’t the Solution

  1. You’ve missed the reason for educating women and girls in developing nations and conflict zones, such as Afghanistan.

    Do you know the power of an educated woman? Do you know what giving girls and women in developing nations the opportunity to receive an education can do for the future of that nation? Do you know that educating women and girls is directly connected to the stability of a nation? It’s true.

    ‘Boots on the ground’ might be the answer to current safety and stability issues in Afghanistan (God bless our fighting forces), but it is the Afghani girls that will deliver and direct the future of their country. Educating girls in Afghanistan and around the world is the key to stability and economic success for any given nation.

    Do not discount the influence of educated Afghani mother to direct her children for the betterment of a village, city, or nation. Do not discount the power of an educated Afghani girl to grow-up and become a respected business woman in her village, and welcomed by village elders.

    The future of Afghanistan is its girls. Learn more here: http://www.globalgiver.org

    T. ‘Coco’ Loren

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