Inspector General Report Says US Efforts at Gender Equality in Afghanistan Produced ‘Mixed Results’

February 19, 2021 by Daniel Mollenkamp
From Kitsap to Kandahar and Back Again: Naval Hospital Bremerton/Navy Medicine Readiness and Training Command Bremerton. (Photo by Douglas Stutz)

WASHINGTON- A report from the Office of the Inspector General recommended that America make safeguarding women’s rights in Afghanistan a top priority, describing the fragile nature of gains in equality in the region.

The U.S. Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, John Sopko, the oversight authority on the reconstruction efforts in the country, released what the office has described as the first ever “comprehensive and independent” government analysis of U.S. efforts related to gender equality in Afghanistan going back to 2002. 

This report found that American efforts related to gender equality in that country have led to “mixed results,” and that policymakers should strongly consider making any future U.S. assistance to the region conditional upon safeguarding the gains of women in the region. Among other recommendations, the report stressed the need to insist on strong monitoring of gender equality. 

Protecting the rights of women has become a primary point of interest as the U.S. approaches the May 1st deadline for troop withdrawal set forth in its agreement with the Taliban. There have also been concerns that the Taliban is not upholding its end of the agreement.

According to this new report, there have been significant gains over the past couple of decades in education and maternal health care for women, and there is significant Afghani interest in these programs. Girls now represent about 3.5 million students in schools, which is about 40% of all students. Literacy rates among girls nearly doubled between 2005 and 2017. The maternal mortality rate has declined. Prenatal care has become more accessible. Access to legal, economic, and political structures have also improved.

Women also reported that “vocal support” from the U.S. and international actors is a “key factor” in securing their rights in public life. 

However, the report emphasized that there is poor data which makes it hard to access the direct impact of many programs and that the gains are fragile. Women still face severe challenges as well. Women continue to face a high mortality rate. Civilian deaths and the poverty rate have significantly risen. In 2019, women represented 12% of civilian deaths and children represented 30%. The gains that do exist are also not spread out evenly with women in rural areas seeing less improvement than in cities.

The report is part of the “Lessons Learned” series, which was started in 2014 to provide recommendations for U.S. reconstruction efforts. It can be read here.

The women of Afghanistan face severe challenges to their rights, including the Taliban, but also including corrupt government officials and warlords, Sopko said in a presentation of the report at the Brookings Institution on Wednesday.

He also expressed concern that the Taliban hasn’t defined what its commitments to women’s rights under Islamic law means. 

Gen. John Allen, former commander of the NATO International Security Assistance Force and U.S. Forces in Afghanistan said during the presentation that the Trump administration had “abrogated” its responsibility by not establishing the U.S.-international expectations for women in the region in the Afghan-Taliban negotiations.

The NATO defense ministers also met this week, and Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg had said at a news conference on Monday that they would discuss delaying the May 1st deadline for troop withdrawal. A recent Congressional study group report also recommended delaying the May 1st troop withdrawal date set out in the Doha agreement with the Taliban. 

The Biden administration is expected to make its intentions known soon.

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