Protect the Gains Made to Empower Women in Afghanistan


Ambassador Ross Wilson, Charge d’Affaires, U.S. Embassy Kabul


Dr. Tina Dooley-Jones, Mission Director, U.S. Agency for International Development

Afghanistan had its share of historic firsts for women in 2020. A long-overdue breakthrough to put more women in positions of authority saw 21 women appointed deputy provincial governors following a July 2020 Presidential decree mandating women deputy governors in all 34 provinces.

Despite this historic first, Afghanistan remains one of the world’s most challenging places to be a woman—with high maternal mortality, endemic gender-based violence, and limited access to employment opportunities, education, and health care. Gains made over the last 20 years have been threatened by the world-altering COVID-19 outbreak, high levels of violence and targeted killings of women, and uncertainties in the peace negotiations. Women’s inclusion in many spheres is challenged, and a 97 percent increase in gender-based violence has occurred over the last twelve months.

We celebrated incredible achievements and contributions made by women all around the world, including here in Afghanistan, on International Women’s Day that we observe on March 8 every year.  Those commemorations remind us that work remains if we are to truly achieve equality. The theme for International Women’s Day 2021 was “Choose to Challenge: Achieving an Equal Future in a COVID-19 World.”

This year, as the world celebrates women’s achievements, we must collectively challenge those who undermine or dismiss the often-selfless efforts of women, especially Afghan women who continue to be marginalized.  #ChooseToChallenge has been more than just a campaign slogan—it’s a call to action. It’s a call to speak directly to those who oppose women exercising their rights as full and equal citizens. Our actions can isolate destructive agendas, societal discrimination, and institutional barriers that work against women’s full participation in society.

To celebrate International Women’s Day, the Embassy hosted a roundtable of women role models and influencers who have worked on the frontlines against COVID-19 or in overcoming challenges women face in the COVID-19 response. Whether they have been raising awareness of the pandemic-induced spike in gender-based violence or suffering from the loss of critical achievements made in health and economic independence, these women are role models and influencers in the political, peace, and development space. They champion the significant contributions of women as caregivers, medical professionals, service providers, and activists. These women are the unsung heroes of the pandemic response, helping to save lives and providing social protection during unprecedented times. Their bravery, professionalism, and self-sacrifice continue, and they are joined by many others, including men, who are working to expand women’s access to and participation in health, education, and economic opportunities.

#ChooseToChallenge creates awareness and pushes people with influence to elevate women into leadership roles. Who better to help drive Afghanistan’s future than women who understand what half the population faces? Who better than those who have endured decades of conflict, abuse, and unequal treatment, with little to no access to education, livelihoods, and economic opportunity? Women here know adversity, and yet they remain resilient, finding solutions and implementing them—for themselves, their families and the Afghan people. They are the best role models for girls and boys, for the next generation of visionaries who need to know that they can make a positive difference in Afghanistan if given the opportunity.

Since 2002, the United States Government has invested significant resources to empower women and advance the participation and rights of women and girls around the world and here. Truly sustainable development—in areas of governance, economics, health, education, and environment—requires the inclusion and empowerment of everyone. No one can be left behind.

The U.S. government’s strategy for women’s empowerment in Afghanistan, developed and implemented largely through the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), focuses on expanding access to quality health and education, creating sustainable economic opportunities, and advocating for women’s rights. USAID provides Afghan women the tools they need for success in leadership and decision-making roles in government, the economy, and civil society. The future of this country depends so greatly on the empowerment of women that USAID Afghanistan established the Agency’s only standalone Office of Gender in the world. We must work together to advocate for women’s empowerment and rights in this country. It’s the right thing to do for women, for a more equitable society, for sustainable development, and to achieve a peaceful and prosperous future.