<Ned> Front Porch
Afghanistan -- please don't forget
Last week, I returned from Afghanistan after a six-month stint on a UNDP contract supporting an initiative of the Ministry of Rural Rehabilitation and Development. I was a "Communications Advisor", and spent my time helping with various communications activities, such as supporting the ministry's press office with various issues (editing press releases, suggesting stories to pitch to the press, stream-lining media monitoring with RSS), or creating a photo archive of the hundreds and hundreds of photos that had been taking by initiative staff members in the last several years, creating and distributing CDs of the best ones, and creating a Flickr account of these photos, which I think present a very different visual story than what you see on the news.
Per my commitment to human equality, I took every opportunity to publicize women-focused activities and women's involvement in the ministry's activities, and to participate in any workshops or meetings I could on the subject. What women face in Afghanistan is a deeply woven mosaic of prejudice that finds its roots not in Islam but in traditions, male reactions to a changing world, illiteracy, misunderstandings about the Koran, fear, insecurity, and on and on and on. The cost to the counry is staggering -- 50% of the country's talent, experience and energy is largely ignored... or worse. Sadly, these practices are reinforced by international aid workers terrified of addressing the issue and bent on avoiding it, who will quickly say "we can't try to change the culture!" as soon as you bring up an activity that might address the profound challenges women face there. I always wonder: if it were an ethnic group being treated thusly, rather than women, would the same arguments be used, or would Bono be holding a concert?
I worked primarily with Afghans, and was based on the government compound rather than the UN compound. I didn't have as much access and freedom as, say, NGO workers, but I had a lot more than US Embassy staff. I also got to work with Afghan women, including training a female Afghan national to work in the communications office. Working with Afghans was, without a doubt, the best part of the assignment - they are ambitious, they are hard-working, and they are primed to do great things, given the opportunity.
The security situation has definitely gotten worse in Afghanistan in the last two months, but I can't emphasize enough that it's still a country worth supporting. The Afghan people need guidance and they need JOBS. I hope I can continue to support the country no matter where I am in the world.
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