The overall human rights situation in Afghanistan is fragile. Internationally agreed norms and standards relating to freedom of expression, freedom of media, freedom of assembly, and protection for the rights of women and girls are being introduced into the relevant legislation and policy frameworks. Although important steps forward, these advances only improve people’s lives when implementation capacity is in place. As an example of joint efforts by the international community to reduce the implementation gap, in 2016 Sweden through UN Women helped train 4 242 trainers on district level for human rights and carried out consultations with civil society from Afghanistan’s 34 provinces on advocacy for the law on elimination of violence against women.
The deteriorating security situation in Afghanistan is a challenge for those who promote human rights, gender equality and democratic development - for the government to fulfil its obligations and for donor support to keep pace. From January to October 2017, 266 000 people fled their homes due to conflict. Fighting between the government forces and organized armed groups over control of eight district centres displaced more than 50 000 people only in August. In addition, there were some 620 000 returnees to Afghanistan in 2016, and since January 84 000 more came from Pakistan and 245 000 from Iran. The large numbers put pressure on already weak state systems to provide equitable access to basic rights.
In provinces and districts where Marie Stopes International is active, by financing their clinics Sweden can strengthen the public health system, provide maternity health care, and attend to particularly women’s but gradually also men’s sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR). Another important actor, able to continue work on community level when field presence has been restricted for many others, is the Swedish Committee for Afghanistan. In their provision of education and health services including water and sanitation they apply a rights-based approach to counter marginalization and focus on women, children and persons with disabilities.
Patriarchal culture continues to restrict work and study for women and girls, most of all in insecure areas. The Swedish Committee for Afghanistan has worked around these social barriers with rural livelihoods, empowering and increasing resilience. With growing acceptance of women’s economic activity outside the home, and a National Priority Program launched by the Government in 2017, support to women’s economic empowerment will grow.
Media is an area where female media workers continue to show presence despite the fact that they and their male colleagues face problems not only with economic sustainability of media outlets but also with security. In the first six months of 2017, the Afghan Journalists Safety Committee reported 73 cases of killing, intimidation, beating, humiliation and detention of journalists. To safeguard continued work with protection, the Committee gets financing from Sweden through the International Media Support. Sweden also organizes an annual conference on freedom of expression in commemoration of journalist Nils Horner who was shot and killed on assignment for the Swedish Radio in Kabul in March 2014.
Sweden also supports Afghanistan Research and Evaluation Unit and Afghanistan Analysts Network that contribute to the ability of women and men to participate in strengthening democratic processes through increased access to information and analysis which is necessary for democratic processes.
The number of civilian casualties in 2017, including children killed and injured, is according to the UN the highest since 2009. The impact of conflict is disproportionate on women and girls. Women in Afghanistan are demanding to play more than a symbolic role in security and peace-building. To give women tools in mediation, the Folke Bernadotte Academy has trained representatives from 27 of the 34 provinces in Afghanistan. Together with the EU and other donors Sweden supports work towards the implementation of the UN Security Council Resolution 1325 (UNSCR 1325) on women, peace and security. Financial support goes to UN Women for capacity building in the Ministry of Women’s Affairs. Support is also given to local civil society actors such as the Afghanistan Public Policy Research Organization, tasked with monitoring the implementation of UNSCR 1325, and to Women for Afghan Women as part of the build-up for a national protection and prevention system for gender based violence with shelters, family counselling and mediation. Sweden is also an active participant in the relevant working groups on national level where the work program for UNSCR 1325 and other related gender integration plans are discussed.
As Afghanistan’s justice system suffers from weakness and corruption, it leaves citizens to the customary justice or Islamic law they are familiar with, despite claims of authority by the state. Sweden Funds International Legal Foundation for Afghanistan to advocate for indigent detainees by providing legal assistance.
A new National Strategy for Combatting Corruption was launched in 2017. Its strength remains to be seen, but to build capacity within local civil society to fight corruption within justice and other areas of central importance, Sweden finances the work of Integrity Watch Afghanistan. By making it possible for their research and advocacy to continue, the still limited number of qualified analysts in this area increases and the government’s fulfilment of its obligations towards citizens to obtain and protect their rights is followed up.
Working towards state building and a democratic development, Sweden supports the World Bank administered Afghanistan Reconstruction Trust Fund (ARTF). The fund contributes significantly to state building by supporting important public reforms and domestic resource mobilization, and by strengthening the state’s capacity to deliver services to its citizens. Through ARTF, projects within the sectors agriculture, education, health, infrastructure, rural development and governance are supported. Through the National Solidarity Program, ARTF has supported democratization, by establishing Community Development Councils, and implementation of local development projects in 35 000 villages across Afghanistan. Its successor, the Citizens’ Charter, is a nation-wide programme with the objective to ensure delivery of basic services to all rural and urban communities in Afghanistan within the next ten years.
Sweden supports efforts to protect and strengthen the rights of children through Save the Children and is looking into strengthening this area further.
Sweden is prepared to support free and fair parliamentary elections, and monitors closely the process for the upcoming electoral cycle in 2018-2019. Support that is channelled through the Free and Fair Elections Foundation of Afghanistan further contributes to the strengthening of democratic institutions in the country but also to the strengthening of civil society and its opportunities to participate.
Economic integration, Employment and Enterprise: Private sector development, infrastructure and rural development
To create favourable conditions for sustainability, Sweden aims at strengthening the private business sector, supporting job creation and rural development.
Investments and entrepreneurship are fundamental for sustainable economic growth, job generation and poverty reduction. Improved prospects for employment provide opportunities for a higher quality of life, better livelihoods and fewer incentives for young people, particularly men, to join illegal armed groups. Sweden intends to develop women’s possibilities do participate in all types of economic activities.
Sweden’s contributions in this area of work consist of both macro-level initiatives and programmes with a specific focus:
Through the organisation Harakat, Sweden supports reforms in favour of a better business environment and better economic possibilities for women. Via Aga Khan Foundation and ILO Sweden contributes to the development of value chains in rural areas which in its turn leads to higher incomes, employment and participation of women.
The UN-agency UNOPS provides maintenance and repairs of the road network in northern Afghanistan. A better road network gives access to markets and social services and contributes to a higher quality of life in rural areas.
Through Mercy Corps, Sweden supports demand-driven vocational training with the prospect of leading to thousands of new jobs.
Sweden also plans to resume its support to demining efforts in Afghanistan in 2018 in order to assist Afghanistan to fulfil its goal of becoming mine-free. Demining is also important for freeing land for agriculture and other developmental investments. Sweden has supported demining efforts for many years in Afghanistan.
Additionally, in 2018, Sweden plans to support Disaster Risk Reduction initiatives aimed at minimizing human and economic losses of natural disasters while also contributing to improved agriculture productivity; effectively increasing communities’ resilience and reducing the need for post-event humanitarian response.
Education for continued development
The fact that so few Afghans can read and write impedes development in Afghanistan. Increased access to primary education of good quality is therefore a priority. The number of female teachers has increased steadily since 2001, and today one third of all teachers are women. However, the geographical distribution is very uneven. In rural areas, the number of female teachers can be as low as 2 %. Female teachers are often a prerequisite for girls going to school, especially after grade 6. This is why Sweden supports efforts to increase the number of teachers, especially women, and to improve the teacher’s skills.
Efforts are also made to raise literacy rates among women and youth. An estimated 30 % of the adult population (over 15 years) is illiterate. Sweden works to promote literacy through support of UNESCO's literacy program. Access and availability are also strengthened through "Community Based Education", education that follows the national school plan, but where the education does not always take place in traditional school buildings.
Special contributions are made to increase quality of education through ARTF. Through this modality, Sweden works closely with the ministry of education (MoE) to train more teachers, head masters and members of school shuras, as well as to build school buildings. Sweden also provides scholarship opportunities through school grants to poor/disadvantaged children, especially girls and the people with disabilities. In addition, Sweden supports the capacity development of MoE, through UNESCO IIPE by providing training to the planning department of MoE.
The lack of security is a severe problem as many students' right to education risks being overridden due to the armed conflict. The security situation has recently also resulted in uncertainty and partial inaccessibility to education for the increasing number of children who are internally displaced. In order to help children and youth to have access to education, and to enjoy their full rights, Sweden cooperates with the Swedish Committee for Afghanistan and Save the Children.
In order to ensure efficiency and the right to education for all girls and boys, Sweden invests considerable efforts to support anti-corruption measures in the education sector.
Afghanistan is one of the 16 major ongoing humanitarian crises in the world, with huge humanitarian needs and high vulnerability. About 7.4 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance of which 3.6 million are prioritized for the 2017 Humanitarian Response Plan in the country.
Conflict continues to affect civilians. So far in 2017 more than 260 000 people have been internally displaced. This is in addition to close to 1 million people who continue living in displacement from previous years. Furthermore, in 2016, 620 000 Afghans returned from Pakistan alone.
Sweden’s largest humanitarian contribution in Afghanistan goes to the Common Humanitarian Fund which allows the local humanitarian community to decide funding priorities for swift and strategic humanitarian action in-country. The Embassy is also a member of the fund's advisory board.
Sweden also provides direct support to Swedish and international organisations operating in Afghanistan.
Recognizing the protracted nature of displacement and need for permanent solutions, in 2017 Sweden contributed to World Bank’s Maintenance and Construction Cash Grant initiative aimed at supporting reintegration of displaced and returnee communities delivered through the government’s Citizens Charter program.
Afghanistan remains one of the deadliest countries in the world for aid workers. Sweden continues to call on all warring parties to respect International Humanitarian law and allow for principled humanitarian action to those in need.
Sweden also recognizes and emphasizes the need for peace in Afghanistan, in the absence of which humanitarian needs are likely to continue to increase.