Skip to main content

Afghanistan can't thrive if its women can't learn

By Ahmad Zia Massoud, Special to CNN
updated 7:25 AM EDT, Fri July 26, 2013
Afghan women, with their children, walk on the outskirts of Herat on June 11, 2013.
Afghan women, with their children, walk on the outskirts of Herat on June 11, 2013.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Ahmad Massoud: Afghanistan's future is closely tied to the role of its women
  • He says it can't be stable and productive if women can't learn or work
  • Massoud: Food security and economic innovation are the keys to expanding rights

Editor's note: Ahmad Zia Massoud is a former vice president in the regime of President Hamid Karzai and is the leader of the National Front of Afghanistan.

(CNN) -- Afghanistan cannot be expected to be a stable and contributing member of the international community when Afghan women are generally denied early and lifelong educational opportunities, are largely unable to work, and in some parts of the country suffer far worse.

While this is a very easy claim to make, fundamentally improving the rights women have and creating the institutions to support those rights is much more difficult to implement given the current on-the-ground realities.

Allowing an 8-year-old to marry, as often happens in Afghanistan, isn't driven by some bizarre desire to give away one's children. In the absence of viable choices, families tend to stay with the comfortable and the accepted -- no matter how horrific and foreign those decisions may seem to outsiders.

Practices such as forced child marriage and limited women's rights are symptoms of a country clinging to old ideas in a vacuum of realistic alternatives.

To believe a secure and prosperous Afghanistan can be left to the next generation while denying basic human rights to half the population is an exercise in mass delusion. It is equally delusional to believe this will change overnight, or even in this generation. But this change is possible. The question is how do we get there?

If history is any guide, shifts in attitudes are unlikely to occur by decree from the Afghan National Assembly, and even less likely under pressure from the West. The driver of change will be food security for the majority of the country and innovative ideas that expand economic development within the realities of a largely cashless and agrarian society.

According to the World Food Programme, Afghanistan consistently ranks in the bottom of the world in terms of food security and a 2012 study by the Afghan Research and Evaluation Unit highlighted the connection between food insecurity and lack of educational opportunities. Progress in this regard ultimately would allow more women to enter the workforce.

Afghanistan's graffiti feminism
Women tortured for saying 'no'

An Afghan family dealing with uncertainty and poverty simply cannot make optimal choices about the future. Sometimes the choice is between finding illicit means of income or holding onto antiquated ideas and practices, which is what we see in Afghanistan now. This cycle has to be broken.

Would the current opposition to women's rights be so fierce if Afghanistan were substantially richer or self-sustainable?

Likely not, because it would be far less threatening to the established order. Taking crucial steps to expand the economy in creative ways is fundamentally a decision about human rights and regional security, not purely an economic decision in isolation.

I have written previously about new ways to develop Afghanistan's rich natural resources in ways that are both transparent and benefit the majority of the country, not just those working in and around the mines.

Returning Afghanistan to its status as Central Asia's "bread basket" through improved water management is another crucial step toward our own self-sufficiency. However, we must also understand that economic development in isolation without the direction of core beliefs will be squandered and the next generation will be struggling with the very same problems we have today.

This change can only be accomplished with strong, values-based leadership in the Presidential Palace that is focused on the economic growth of the country as a whole and not just for a few friends and family members. We can then use that growth as the driver of positive change that can be sustained for decades.

Afghanistan desperately needs economic innovations to reduce dependence on foreign partners and significant agricultural advances to reduce uncertainty for our families.

A simple statement about rights without the economic capacity and social institutions to support them is doomed to failure but economic growth combined with core values on rights and education is how real change can happen. Then and only then can we have any hope of fighting the insurgency and securing a brighter future for all citizens, women and men alike.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Ahmad Zia Massoud.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 4:06 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Timothy Stanley says Lewinsky is shamelessly playing the victim in her affair with Bill Clinton, humiliating Hillary Clinton again and aiding her critics
updated 9:02 PM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Imagine being rescued from modern slavery, only to be charged with a crime, writes John Sutter
updated 12:00 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Tidal flooding used to be a relatively rare occurrence along the East Coast. Not anymore, write Melanie Fitzpatrick and Erika Spanger-Siegfried.
updated 7:35 AM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Carol Costello says activists, writers, politicians have begun discussing their abortions. But will that new approach make a difference on an old battleground?
updated 9:12 AM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Sigrid Fry-Revere says the National Organ Transplant Act has caused more Americans to die waiting for an organ than died in both World Wars, Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq
updated 2:51 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Crystal Wright says racist remarks like those made by black Republican actress Stacey Dash do nothing to get blacks to join the GOP
updated 6:07 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Mel Robbins says by telling her story, Monica Lewinsky offers a lesson in confronting humiliating mistakes while keeping her head held high
updated 9:29 AM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Cornell Belcher says the story of the "tea party wave" in 2010 was bogus; it was an election determined by ebbing Democratic turnout
updated 4:12 PM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Les Abend says pilots want protocols, preparation and checklists for all contingencies; at the moment, controlling a deadly disease is out of their comfort zone
updated 11:36 PM EDT, Sun October 19, 2014
David Weinberger says an online controversy that snowballed from a misogynist attack by gamers into a culture war is a preview of the way news is handled in a world of hashtag-fueled scandal
updated 8:23 AM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Julian Zelizer says Paul Krugman makes some good points in his defense of President Obama but is premature in calling him one of the most successful presidents.
updated 10:21 PM EDT, Sun October 19, 2014
Conservatives can't bash and slash government and then suddenly act surprised if government isn't there when we need it, writes Sally Kohn
updated 8:05 AM EDT, Wed October 22, 2014
ISIS is looking to take over a good chunk of the Middle East -- if not the entire Muslim world, write Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider.
updated 9:00 AM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
The world's response to Ebola is its own sort of tragedy, writes John Sutter
updated 4:33 PM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
Hidden away in Russian orphanages are thousands of children with disabilities who aren't orphans, whose harmful treatment has long been hidden from public view, writes Andrea Mazzarino
updated 1:22 PM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
When you hear "trick or treat" this year, think "nudge," writes John Bare
updated 12:42 AM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
The more than 200 kidnapped Nigerian schoolgirls have become pawns in a larger drama, writes Richard Joseph.
updated 9:45 AM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
Peggy Drexler said Amal Alamuddin was accused of buying into the patriarchy when she changed her name to Clooney. But that was her choice.
updated 4:43 PM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
Ford Vox says the CDC's Thomas Frieden is a good man with a stellar resume who has shown he lacks the unique talents and vision needed to confront the Ebola crisis
updated 4:58 AM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
How can such a numerically small force as ISIS take control of vast swathes of Syria and Iraq?
updated 9:42 AM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
How big a threat do foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq pose to the West? It's a question that has been much on the mind of policymakers and commentators.
updated 8:21 AM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
More than a quarter-million American women served honorably in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Now they are home, we have an obligation to help them transition back to civilian life.
updated 4:27 PM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
Paul Begala says Rick Scott's deeply weird refusal to begin a debate because rival Charlie Crist had a fan under his podium spells disaster for the Florida governor--delighting Crist
updated 12:07 AM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
The longer we wait to engage on Ebola, the more limited our options will become, says Marco Rubio.
updated 7:53 AM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Democratic candidates who run from President Obama in red states where he is unpopular are making a big mistake, says Donna Brazile
updated 12:29 AM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
At some 7 billion people, the world can sometimes seem like a crowded place. But if the latest estimates are to be believed, then in less than a century it is going to feel even more so -- about 50% more crowded, says Evan Fraser
updated 12:53 PM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Paul Callan says the Ebola situation is pointing up the need for better leadership
updated 6:45 PM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Nurses are the unsung heroes of the Ebola outbreak. Yet, there are troubling signs we're failing them, says John Sutter
updated 1:00 PM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Dean Obeidallah says it's a mistake to give up a business name you've invested energy in, just because of a new terrorist group
updated 7:01 PM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Fear of Ebola is contagious, writes Mel Robbins; but it's time to put the disease in perspective
updated 1:44 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Oliver Kershaw says that if Big Tobacco is given monopoly of e-cigarette products, public health will suffer.
updated 9:35 AM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
Stop thinking your job will make you happy.
updated 10:08 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says it's time to deal with another scandal involving the Secret Service — one that leads directly into the White House.
updated 7:25 AM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Americans who choose to fight for militant groups or support them are young and likely to be active in jihadist social media, says Peter Bergen
updated 9:03 AM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
Stephanie Coontz says 11 years ago only one state allowed same sex marriage. Soon, some 60% of Americans will live where gays can marry. How did attitudes change so quickly?
updated 4:04 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Legalizing assisted suicide seems acceptable when focusing on individuals. But such laws would put many at risk of immense harm, writes Marilyn Golden.
updated 9:07 AM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
Julian Zelizer says the issues are huge, but both parties are wrestling with problems that alienate voters
updated 6:50 PM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
Mel Robbins says the town's school chief was right to cancel the season, but that's just the beginning of what needs to be done
updated 11:43 AM EDT, Sat October 11, 2014
He didn't discover that the world was round, David Perry writes. So what did he do?
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT