Thursday, July 15, 2010

Jobs for the girls?

Since there is no civil society in Afghanistan I found it somewhat surprising to find in the directory of development organization the non-state has 174 civil society development organizations. Judging by Afghanistan's neighbours, civil society organizations aren't particularly interested in Central Asia. Why Afghanistan? It might therefore be useful to do a more detailed analysis of what non-governmental organizations (NGOs) there are in Afghanistan and what they stand for.

So I've created an unofficial chart (below) based on my own imperfect categorisation of the different organizations numbered "CSO" (Civil Society Organisation).

The two most nebulous categories are friendship and campaigns. The campaigns section includes landmine organizations and some peace and democracy NGOs, but women's groups have been totalled separately. Friendship included voluntary organizations and ones along the lines of "American Friends of Afghanistan". The Other section contained coordinating meta-NGOs, some which used the word "technical" and some that didn't fit in any of the main categories.

Included in Relief/Aid section are so-called humanitarian organizations like Oxfam and World Vision. The largest aid organizations also have a political agenda. This is that they want to deliver aid in a militarily secure environment, because if they stopped delivering aid people would choose to hold on to their money to give later rather than give it to sit in Oxfam's or whatever's bank account.

The results: I expected more human rights organizations. For example, there appears to be no Amnesty International office in Afghanistan. AI  does qualify as a development organization on other country pages, like Barbados (what an onerous posting that is). Afghanistan must be just way too much of a tough gig.

Afghanistan is awash with generic humanitarian organizations and medical non-governmentals. These are mostly young doctors and middle class university graduates who can't get jobs back in Europe. One reason why middle class Westerners like to fund middle class institutions like relief giving NGOs is because it gives their middle class children, many of whom are daughters, a platform to travel the world that doesn't involve getting shot at.

There's a strong combined showing by women and children, which makes up more than 10% of the total. This isn't much of a surprise as one of the original justifications for being in Afghanistan was to better the lot of the women. A quarter of the seats in the Afghan Parliament are reserved for women even though only 18% of young Afghan women are literate. At the 2010 elections 28% of those elected were female.

The bulk of the educated women in the Afghan parliament likely come from the more literate Afghan ethnic groups, like the Tajiks, who do not oppress their women as much. Tajikis are a non-tribal, urban group who are everywhere, but predominate in the north and west making up about 27% of the Afghan population. Unlike the Pashtun, the Tajiks are an ethnic force for holding Afghanistan together as a post-racial Anglo-Saxon type state but, of course, the Tajiks already have a state called Tajikistan next door.

So on the one hand we have pressure from the Tajik community to keep Afghanistan going as a non-state because it increases their political influence, and on the other we have pressure from the development community to keep Afghanistan going because it provides something for their daughters to do. Is the Afghan war being extended way beyond its demonstrable failure because it provides jobs for the girls?


  1. Interesting idea.

    There is more to Afghanistan then providing jobs for the girls.

    The reason is, that the reason for being in Afghanistan keeps changing when the old resaon gets old. The real resaon cannot be divulged for that would give the game away to the enemy within and without. Even a socialist UK goverment, such as Labour, was committed to the war, even though it violated all its principles. The situation continues with the LibCon coalition.

    In a way Iam satisfied that the coalition does not divulge the real reason why we are in Afghanistan or Iraq.

  2. The other reason for being in Afghanistan or Iraq, is that it is the only dog we have in the fight.

  3. I agree with you this is only one aspect to it. There is also a "jobs for the boys" aspect :)

    I don't know what you think is the "real reason" but I cannot find myself a logical reason to be there for "war on terrorism" or "war for oil".

  4. See the brilliant satire on international aid workers at
    They're in it for the money and status.

  5. Great link, thanks!

    Reminds me a little of Yes Minister... I loved those books.