The fifth Sustainable Development Goal aimed to eradicate gender inequality and violence in Afghanistan while ensuring equal opportunities for Afghans to experience peace and prosperity.
Problems and Purpose
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The Sustainable Development Goals are a set of objectives aimed at achieving global progress in ending poverty, protecting the environment and climate, and ensuring universal peace and prosperity. In Afghanistan, the United Nations worked towards meeting Afghanistan Sustainable Development Goals (A-SDGs) goals, including eradicating poverty, eliminating hunger, promoting good health and well-being, providing quality education, achieving gender equality, ensuring access to clean water and sanitation, promoting affordable and clean energy, supporting decent work and economic growth, advancing industry innovation and infrastructure, reducing inequality, creating sustainable cities and communities, promoting responsible consumption and production, taking climate action, protecting life below water and on land, promoting peace, justice, and strong institutions, and fostering partnerships to achieve these goals.[i]
Background History and Context
Based on ongoing efforts to promote public participation in Afghanistan over 20 years, the Government of Afghanistan strived to adopt the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) at a crucial time when the country faced numerous challenges. These include climate change, poverty, hunger, unemployment, inequality, violence, and injustice. Afghanistan and the international community were concerned about widespread corruption, poor governance, excessive population growth, unequal economic development, and lack of access to sustainable energy and safe drinking water. The SDGs provided a comprehensive and inclusive global vision recognizing the complexity of sustainable development in all regions and countries.
In September 2015, 193 United Nations member states signed up for the SDG agenda, committing to achieving 17 goals and 169 targets by 2030 through an inclusive process. This global development agenda aims to create a sustainable future where no one is left behind.
The Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan (GoIRA) worked towards nationalizing the SDGs by conducting a thorough consultation process. The team consulted with various stakeholders to develop national targets and indicators, including government agencies, civil society, the private sector, academia, international development partners, Kabul-based UN agencies, and women and youth. Afghanistan has adopted 16 of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), 110 of 169 targets and 177 of 232 indicators. The working group categorized these goals, targets, and indicators into eight budgetary sectors. The country's National SDG document and other strategic documents, such as the Afghanistan National Peace and Development Framework (ANPDF), were developed based on these eight sectors. Additionally, Afghanistan aligned its objectives and standards for 2020 with the ANPDF and National Priority Programs (NPPs). Furthermore, the government was expected to create a comprehensive development plan for 2020-2030.[i]
[i] Islamic Republic of Afghanistan Ministry of Economy. Afghanistan Sustainable Development Goals. 2018.Pp:7: https://ku.edu.af/sites/default/files/202012/National%20Document%2013%20January%202020_compressed_0.pdf
Organizing, Supporting, and Funding Entities
The Ministry of Economy (MoEc) in Afghanistan was designated as the lead entity for coordinating and monitoring the implementation of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in early 2016. The MoEc conducted a consultative process involving the public sector, civil society, and the business community to ensure that the most relevant SDGs were implemented in Afghanistan. This resulted in the nationalization of the SDGs through a three-stage process of alignment, implementation and review.[i]
The Government of Afghanistan implemented the program under the auspices of the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC).
[i] Islamic Republic Afghanistan. Volunteer National Review (VNR) 2021.Pp: 4: https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/content/documents/280392021_VNR_Report_Afghanistan.pdf
Participant Recruitment and Selection
The Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan (GoIRA) has taken several steps to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Firstly, they have nationalized the SDGs. Secondly, they have aligned them with the Afghanistan National Peace and Development Framework (ANPDF), National Priority Programs (NPPs), and other development projects. Thirdly, they consolidated financial resources from various sources. Lastly, they created the Executive Committee on SDGs, which was responsible for monitoring and reporting on the national level. The committee comprised 37 permanent members, 29 government agencies, eight civil society organizations, and private sector and development partners. The Board of Directors comprised the Minister of Economy, the Senior Advisor to the CEO on Economic and Development Affairs, and the Country Director of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in Afghanistan. Additionally, the committee had four working groups: Governance and Security, Agriculture and Rural Development, Health, Education, and Social Protection, Infrastructure and Economic Growth. To finalize the A-SDGs, the Executive Committee conducted 25 high-level meetings, and the working groups conducted over 70 technical meetings.[i]
[i] Islamic Republic of Afghanistan Ministry of Economy. Afghanistan Sustainable Development Goals. 2018.Pp:10: https://ku.edu.af/sites/default/files/202012/National%20Document%2013%20January%202020_compressed_0.pdf
Methods and Tools Used
Since its first Volunteer National Review (VNR) in 2017, the government made significant progress toward achieving the SDGs. In Afghanistan, the SDGs have been nationalized into 16 goals, 110 targets, and 177 indicators tailored to the country's context. To implement the SDGs, a high-level Executive Committee with four sub-committees was established to provide policy guidance. To align with the ANPDF, the SDGs were prioritized and analyzed using a multi-criteria approach. The government also worked on integrating the SDGs using the Computable General Equilibrium (CGE) model, deploying integrated financing instruments, costing the SDGs, and establishing a national monitoring framework and Dashboard. Despite the challenging security environment, the government was proud of its achievements in implementing the SDGs.
Also, the government established institutional setups to provide an enabling environment for SDGs-informed policy formulation, management, coordination and collaboration across multiple partners and institutions. [i]
[i] Islamic Republic Afghanistan. Volunteer National Review (VNR) 2021.Pp: 1: https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/content/documents/280392021_VNR_Report_Afghanistan.pdf
What Went On: Process, Interaction, and Participation
The Government of Afghanistan submitted its second report on Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to the High-Level Political Forum (HLPF) meeting held under the auspices of ECOSOC. The report highlights progress made toward achieving specific goals since 2017.
In the social sector, the government focused on meeting the needs of citizens through policymaking and implementation. In 2020, the President led over 90 government officials to visit provinces to promote consultation and civic participation. The President also held monthly meetings with an average of 5,000 citizens at the Arg palace. The government prioritized empowering women, youth, and low-income people, who comprised most of the country's population. Through open discussions among the public and media, topics such as preserving the republic, citizen responsibility, equal rights for men and women, balanced development, corruption-free governance, free and fair elections, and the rule of law were discussed within the framework of the constitution. As a result, there were significant and visible improvements in public debates on these issues.
The Ministry of Economy has organized a range of consultations, workshops, and discussions with various groups despite the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic. These consultations involved civil society organizations, non-governmental organizations, government bodies, private sector representatives, women's organizations, academia, and development partners. The goal was to gather input for a report and address challenges related to implementing SDGs. Even during the third wave of COVID-19, the Ministry of Economy conducted virtual consultations with all Provincial Directorates of Economy (PDoE), who served as secretariats for Provincial Development Councils (PDCs).[i]
On November 21, 2017, the Ministry of Women's Affairs organized the National Conference on Women's Empowerment in the Light of Afghanistan's Sustainable Development Goals to guarantee the involvement of Afghan women in the process.
At the conference, the participants talked about the 2030 Agenda, Sustainable Development Goals. They identified critical priorities for sustainable development for the next 13 years until the end of 2030. It was crucial to address women's rights and gender issues while implementing these goals. Achieving gender equality was essential for envisioning a future where sustainable development is a reality.
The focus of gender equality in SDGs was addressing women's issues and promoting gender equality. The fifth goal was to eliminate all forms of discrimination and violence against women and girls, including underage and forced marriages, and to recognize the value of women's everyday and domestic work. Therefore, it was crucial to incorporate gender considerations in all sustainable development programs and objectives.
The Conference Agenda:
The national conference, which the Ministry of Women's Affairs held under the title (Strengthening the Relationship between Gender and Implementing the Agenda of sustainable development goals: The Importance of Communication between National and international development programs), had the following goals:
The Ministry of Women's Affairs contributed to coordinating, implementing, monitoring, and achieving sustainable development goals, focusing on promoting gender equality and women empowerment. In order to increase awareness, it aimed to educate the public about the Afghanistan Sustainable Development Goals program and its objectives, especially the fifth goal. Through local discussions, participants were encouraged to prioritize gender issues in policies and compare them with similar cases. Furthermore, the ultimate goal was to garner support from the government, civil institutions, academic institutions, the private sector, and the international community to improve the status of women in Afghanistan. Meanwhile, identified ways to implement the sustainable development goals program that could remove structural barriers against women's human rights. Additionally, suggestions were provided to the government on how they can better align the sustainable development goals program with national programs while also considering the needs of women during the implementation stages.
During the conference, the focus was on Afghanistan's transition from the Millennium Development Goals to the Sustainable Development Goals. Key factors were identified to contribute to sustainable development, including:
- Focusing on improving the status of women through the Sustainable Development Goals program.
- Aligning global development programs with national programs such as the National Women's Economic Empowerment Program and Citizen Charter.
- Recognizing the crucial role of local bodies in implementing national programs at the local level.
- Acknowledging the importance of women's role and presence in local governance for sustainable development.
- The Ministry of Women's Affairs has unveiled a 5-year strategic plan to support these goals.
- The United Nations supports and assists in implementing the Sustainable Development Goals.
The conference provided a valuable platform to address concerns about women and girls. This could garner the attention of various stakeholders, such as the government, civil society, academia, the private sector, and the international community. The Sustainable Development Goals program had the potential to effectively address structural issues that hinder women from enjoying their rights, particularly in matters related to gender. "It is essential to evaluate the progress made by women in the country and ensure that it aligns with current programs and developments. Additionally, this provides an opportunity for the government to monitor and measure their efforts in improving the situation for Afghan women and girls." said the Minister of Women Affairs, Delbar Nazari.
Finally, she expressed her request to the participants of the two-day conference. She urged them to focus on connecting sustainable development goals with national development programs, particularly in implementing the fifth goal of achieving gender equality and empowering women and girls. She emphasized the importance of applying this goal to the provincial level and encouraged discussions during the conference.[i]
Afghanaid assessed its progress towards achieving the 5th goal of the SDGs. They emphasized that for sustainable change to occur, there must be a shift in attitudes toward women's rights and their value within communities. However, achieving the ambitious targets of the SDGs, which aim to address structural inequality, requires collaborative efforts from all sectors of society. As a result, Afghanaid works at both the grassroots level and through partnerships with various organizations to achieve these goals.[ii]
[ii] Afghanaid. SDG 5 in Afghanistan: Gender Equality. Official website: https://www.afghanaid.org.uk/sdg-5-in-afghanistan-gender-equality
[i] Islamic Republic Afghanistan. Volunteer National Review (VNR) 2021.Pp:1-4: https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/content/documents/280392021_VNR_Report_Afghanistan.pdf
Influence, Outcomes, and Effects
In Afghanistan, poverty is a significant issue that the government actively worked to reduce and eliminate through various policies and programs. Sadly, almost half of the population lived below the national poverty line, with three out of every four poor people residing in rural areas. However, the government reduced poverty to 48 percent by 2020. The latest Income and Expenditure Survey reveals that poverty has decreased from 54.5 percent in 2017 to 47.1 percent in 2020. To further assist those in need, the government implemented a bread distribution program during Ramadan and Eid holidays in the capital cities of all provinces and the National Food Program (Destarkhon-e-Mili). Moreover, the government reviewed and restructured existing national programs to provide more direct and targeted assistance to low-income individuals, particularly those suffering from extreme poverty.
Despite the challenges posed by COVID-19, progress has been made toward achieving the goal of zero hunger by 2030. Afghanistan's hunger score has improved significantly from 51 in 2000 to 30.3 in 2020, ranking 99th out of 107 countries. However, according to a survey by IE&LFS, 59.5 percent of the population still suffers from moderate to severe food insecurity. Out of the total population, 36.9 percent (11.7 million) are food insecure, with 14 percent (4.5 million) being very severely food insecure, 9.8 percent (3.1 million) being severely food insecure, and 13.1 percent (4.2 million) being moderately food insecure. On a positive note, stunting and wasting in children under five years of age have decreased from 40.4 percent (in 2012) to 38.2 percent (in 2020) and from 9.5 percent (in 2012) to 5.1 percent (in 2020), respectively.
The government of Afghanistan has worked tirelessly for the past two decades to improve healthcare services for all citizens. The efforts have yielded impressive results, with primary healthcare coverage increasing from 60 percent in 2013 to 85 percent in 2020. The maternal mortality rate has dropped significantly from 1,450 deaths per 100,000 live births in 2000 to 638 maternal deaths in 2018. The number of pregnant women receiving at least one antenatal check-up has also increased to 70 percent, compared to just 23 percent in 2005. In addition, the neonatal mortality rate per 1,000 live births has been reduced to 37.1 in 2018, and the mortality rate for children under five years of age has fallen from 129.4 in 2000 to 62.3 in 2018.
The principle of leaving no one behind (LNOB) aimed to improve the economic participation of the poorest quintile. Inequality has decreased from 31.2 in 2017 to 30.1 in 2020, according to ESCAP SDGs data. The number of refugees by country of origin also decreased from 7.2 million in 2015 to 6.7 million in 2019. The cost of remittance as a percentage of the amount remitted has slightly decreased from 9.9 percent in 2017 to 9.2 percent in 2018. Personal remittances received as a percentage of GDP increased from 1.8 percent to 5.4 percent in 2017 and slightly decreased to 4.1 percent in 2018.
Afghanistan has faced conflict, insecurity, and limited institutional capacity for many years, which have hindered access to justice. The economic cost of violence in Afghanistan was estimated to be 50.3 percent of the 2020 GDP. In 2020, Afghanistan ranked 163rd in the Global Peace Index and 165th out of 179 countries in Transparency International's Global Corruption Perception Index. However, the significant rule of law reforms has resulted in drafting, passing, or enacting of over 482 laws and regulations. These changes aimed to establish a governance framework for state functions and operations of the free market and civil society.[i]
[i] ] Islamic Republic Afghanistan. Volunteer National Review (VNR) 2021.Pp: 1-10: https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/content/documents/280392021_VNR_Report_Afghanistan.pdf
Analysis and Lessons Learned
Many consider Afghanistan's first experience with democracy to have occurred 20 years ago when the United States and international allies invaded the country under the “War on Terrorism." However, Afghanistan has a rich history of democratic governance dating back to its independence from Britain in 1919. Unfortunately, civil war and other challenges have prevented true democracy from taking root in the country. In order to achieve a government that genuinely represents and benefits all citizens, including women and religious minorities, equal participation in governance processes is essential. Historians believe that democracy in Afghanistan dates back to the first constitutional period, also known as the democracy movement. This movement aimed to reduce the power of the Amir and the traditional legal system. While some historians refer to this as the democracy movement, democracy in Afghanistan had a concrete meaning since the 1960s.
In 1963, Mohammad Yusuf became the prime minister of the Afghan government after Sardar Mohammad Daud Khan resigned after a ten-year tenure. This was significant because Yusuf was the first prime minister who was not from the Muhammadzai royal family. The new constitution of Afghanistan was formulated, marking the beginning of establishing democracy in the country. The constitution, adopted in 1964, granted citizens more freedoms, including the ability to form assemblies and political parties and practice religion without fear of persecution. The government was also prohibited from torturing, exiling, censoring publications, and prosecuting political opponents. The formation of political parties led to increased criticism of the government and widespread protests were against it. [i]
Over two decades, international communities in Afghanistan presented a unique chance for the government to lead the country out of poverty and underdevelopment. Unfortunately, numerous obstacles and difficulties have caused Afghanistan to regress by a century.
Despite some achievements, several emerging challenges impacted progress towards the SDGs. These challenges included the COVID-19 pandemic's impact on economic growth, ongoing war and insurgency causing high civilian and military casualties, the adverse effects of withdrawing international coalition forces, coping with the influx of around 5 million refugees after the peace process, and the impact of climate changes, among others. Nonetheless, the government remained committed to pursuing the 2030 Agenda through institutionalized policy and programmatic responses. In July 2020, the Afghan government launched the Second National Peace and Development Framework (ANPDF-II) to continue eradicating poverty, developing a self-reliant and productive economy connected with the region and the world, investing in solid institutions, and addressing the risks imposed by COVID-19. Over the next five years, the government was expected to focus on peace-building, state-building, and market-building with a core principle of responding to citizen demands, particularly women and the most vulnerable, in a direct, accountable, and transparent.[ii]
During the 20 years of democracy in Afghanistan, from 2001 to 2021, the country has faced significant challenges. These challenges include prolonged conflict, which has resulted in 50% of GDP's resources being used for conflict rather than development and progress. Additionally, Afghanistan has struggled with widespread corruption, authoritarianism, nepotism, centralization, gender inequality, tribalism, and nationalism. Despite having access to financial resources and international aid, these problems have kept Afghanistan one of the world's poorest countries.
Despite 20 years of progress toward democracy, the values of democracy are once again being questioned. The recent peace negotiations in Doha between the International Community and the Taliban have failed to promote democracy in Afghanistan. The Taliban views democracy as incompatible with Islamic principles and disregards the people's will by imposing its government. The progress in establishing democracy in Afghanistan over the past two decades has been undermined, leaving little hope for its future.
[ii] ] Islamic Republic Afghanistan. Volunteer National Review (VNR) 2021.Pp: 1: https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/content/documents/280392021_VNR_Report_Afghanistan.pdf
 Faridoon, Azhand. Democracy in Afghanistan. Persian Independent Journal. 2020: https://www.independentpersian.com
 Islamic Republic of Afghanistan Ministry of Economy. Afghanistan Sustainable Development Goals. 2018: https://ku.edu.af/sites/default/files/202012/National%20Document%2013%20January%202020_compressed_0.pdf
 Islamic Republic Afghanistan. Volunteer National Review (VNR) 2021.Pp: 1: https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/content/documents/280392021_VNR_Report_Afghanistan.pdf
 United Nations Afghanistan Official Website: Our Work on the Sustainable Development Goals in Afghanistan https://afghanistan.un.org/en/sdgs
 Afghanaid. SDG 5 in Afghanistan: Gender Equality. Official website: https://www.afghanaid.org.uk/sdg-5-in-afghanistan-gender-equality
 The Ministry of Women Affairs website: https:// www.mowa.gov.af
The ongoing political crisis in Afghanistan has resulted in the Ministry of Women's Affairs' closure, depriving half the population of fundamental human rights. Furthermore, the Ministry of Women's Affairs official website is currently inaccessible.