In the days after September 11, the international community’s desire to “rescue” Afghan women from their social, political, and economic fate was key to mobilizing global support to topple the Taliban regime. Since then, the Afghan government and the international community have invested vast resources seeking to improve the status of women in the country, primarily through programs to support women leaders in politics, business, and civil society. Drawn on interviews and focus group discussions with more than two hundred people, this report seeks to understand factors that contribute to the emergence of women leaders by identifying and assessing the past decade and a half’s efforts to promote women’s leadership.

Summary

  • Since 2001, the Afghan government, in partnership with the international community, has invested vast resources seeking to ensure the emergence of women as leaders in politics, business, and civil society.
  • The adaptive leadership framework used in this analysis stresses contextual awareness and a leader’s sense of purpose, and views leadership as mobilizing people to tackle collective challenges. Authority is only one of many tools leaders have at their disposal.
  • Many women have emerged in positions of national significance in politics, business, and civil society. However, women’s space for leadership remains limited, donor dependent, and primarily urban; interventions aimed at promoting women’s leadership primarily focus on raw counts of women in political positions.
  • Women are underrepresented in the private sector and have no active role in economic production. Insecurity, harassment, immobility, religious extremism, and corruption are common. Concepts such as gender equality remain largely misunderstood.
  • Women in positions of authority are perceived as symbolic, lack political support, have weak decision-making and enforcement power, and lack access to sources of financial and human capital.
  • Bottom-up efforts to engage women have led to pressure groups and a culture of democratic advocacy but have also created donor-dependent entities that behave like rentier organizations and offer few incentives for widespread social mobilization, which is critical in developing enduring leadership.
  • Men remain largely disengaged and often alienated from efforts to promote women’s leadership, which they associate with physical or sexual attributes rather than intellectual capacity. Engagement with religious groups has remained limited to quick fixes.
  • Supportive family, credible and relevant female role models, and quality education—including religious knowledge—help generate an enabling environment for women’s leadership.
  • Effective support of women’s leadership demands gender-inclusive approaches, creatively redefining leadership, facilitating women’s mobility, and strong political will.

About the Report

This report examines the state of women’s leadership in Afghanistan. It is based primarily on interviews and focus group discussions with more than two hundred academics, politicians, entrepreneurs, journalists, teachers, students, and civil society activists, as well as Afghan and international experts in Kabul between January and March 2015. The research is part of a partnership agreement between the United States Institute of Peace (USIP) and USAID aimed at supporting policy relevant research on Afghanistan, targeting national and international policymakers, in particular USAID strategies and programs such as PROMOTE.

About the Authors

Aarya Nijat, a Harvard graduate, co-runs Duran Research & Analysis, a consulting firm based in Kabul. Jennifer Murtazashvili is assistant professor of public management and international development at the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs at the University of Pittsburgh.

Related Publications

South Sudan’s Pitfalls of Power Sharing

South Sudan’s Pitfalls of Power Sharing

Friday, February 16, 2018

By: USIP Staff; Susan Stigant; Aly Verjee

This week, a new proposal for a power sharing government was tabled at the ongoing Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) High Level Revitalization Forum (HLRF) peace talks for South Sudan. An earlier, 2015 peace deal also contained a formula for power sharing; that arrangement failed and the civil war re-ignited a year later. Power sharing arrangements are appropriate if certain conditions are met, but not enough has been done to ensure the latest proposal will overcome the obstacles present in South Sudan, according to Susan Stigant, USIP’s director for Africa programs and Aly Verjee, a visiting expert at USIP and a former senior advisor to the IGAD mediation, who comment on the proposal and suggest how it could be improved.

Democracy & Governance; Fragility and Resilience; Global Policy

Redefining Masculinity in Afghanistan

Redefining Masculinity in Afghanistan

Thursday, February 15, 2018

By: Belquis Ahmadi; Rafiullah Stanikzai

Following more than three decades of political instability, violent conflicts, and foreign invasions, Afghanistan is home to nearly two generations that have grown up knowing only conflict and war. As a result, violent and aggressive behavior—particularly from young men—has become an accepted norm of...

Gender

Understanding China’s Response to the Rakhine Crisis

Understanding China’s Response to the Rakhine Crisis

Thursday, February 8, 2018

By: Adrienne Joy

Following attacks on police posts by an armed Rohingya militia in August 2017, reprisals by the Burmese government have precipitated a humanitarian crisis. More than six hundred thousand Rohingya have fled to Bangladesh, where they face an uncertain future. Publicly stating that the root cause of conflict in Rakhine is...

Global Policy

View All Publications