A continuing struggle: Empowering Afghan women

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Friday, March 11, 2011; 8:54 PM

The March 6 news article "As U.S. goals shift, so does focus on aid to Afghanistan's women" suggested that the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) is shifting away from its commitment to gender equality and women's empowerment in Afghanistan. Nothing could be further from the truth.

As part of a government-wide effort, USAID is providing more support than at any time in our agency's history to address the illiteracy, poor health, extreme poverty and political exclusion that still bedevil the lives of Afghan women.

We have more than doubled spending on women and girls since 2008, created and fully staffed a new gender unit in 2010, required all programs to integrate gender concerns into their project design and evaluation, and provided more than 500 grants for capacity-building for civil society, basic education, women's equality under the law, land reform, micro-enterprise, and political and social advocacy.

Improvements in access to education, health care, employment, and political and economic opportunity have been notable since the fall of the Taliban. But there is still a long way to go, and the U.S. government is committed to making these gains deeper and irreversible.

As Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has said, "No society can advance if 50 percent of its population is left behind." We do this not simply as a matter of fairness or equity, but because investments in women and promotion of women's participation and equality are non-negotiable requirements for lasting peace, stability and social progress.

Donald Steinberg, Washington

The writer is deputy administrator of USAID.

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No single segment of Afghanistan society suffered more under Taliban rule than women. No single segment of Afghanistan society has been as courageous in reclaiming their rights to education, health and employment opportunities.

Now an anonymous senior U.S. official says: "Gender issues are going to have to take a back seat to other priorities. All those pet rocks in our rucksack were taking us down."

Women's rights in Afghanistan are a "pet rock"? What a shameful comment.

Karl F. Inderfurth, McLean

The writer is a former assistant secretary of state for South Asian Affairs and currently a senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.


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