As we watch the momentous events unfolding in North Africa, progress elsewhere could be in jeopardy. “High Stakes: Girls’ Education in Afghanistan,” a new report by 16 international aid organizations warns that a major success story on girls attending school in Afghanistan could be undone by poverty, lack of teachers and lack of security.
As the international community contemplates its role in Afghanistan, I think we should keep these figures in mind: Today 2.4 million Afghan girls go to school. In 2001, 5000 girls did.
The education of young women is vitally important for the long-term stability of Afghanistan. That is one of the reasons why the United States currently has more than 1,100 civilian experts from nine federal agencies working in the country on everything from improving agriculture, to expanding infrastructure, to stemming the drug trade and training Afghan civil servants.
Delivering the first Richard C. Holbrooke memorial address in Washington earlier this month, Secretary Hillary Clinton stated: “I know there are some on Capitol Hill and elsewhere who question whether we need anything more than guns, bombs, and troops to achieve our goals in Afghanistan. As our commanders on the ground would be the first to say, however, that is a short-sighted and ultimately self-defeating view. We will never kill enough insurgents to end this war outright. The military campaign must proceed hand-in-hand with a robust civilian effort that helps the Afghan Government build credibility with its own people, offer alternatives to the insurgency, and provide incentives for all Afghans to renounce violence and work together toward a better future. That is how insurgencies end.
And that is why we have matched our military surge with a civilian surge that tripled the number of diplomats, development experts, and other specialists on the ground. These efforts are mutually reinforcing and both support the transition process.”
Governments, aid organizations, militaries, crisis management organizations and NGOs work together in Afghanistan, all seeking to contribute to the stability and safety of the country. Finland continues to make valuable contributions to ISAF and, equally importantly, Finnish NGOs are working with Afghan organizations to build Afghanistan’s civil society. For example, a very successful program was launched in 2007 by the Women Journalists in Finland to train their counterparts in Afghanistan. We cannot lose focus in Afghanistan and jeopardize the progress made through these and other success stories, which have been forged through much risk and sacrifice.