How Not to Empower Women in Afghanistan

The U.S. Agency for International Development’s $416 million, five-year program to boost women’s leadership runs the risk of being irrelevant in a country where, just last month, a woman was beaten to death by a mob of men in broad daylight for allegedly burning a Quran. In a video taken by an onlooker, a man is seen taking a concrete block to smash her head. Her body was then set on fire and thrown into a river.

The issue is not just the legitimate concerns over the difficulties of implementing, monitoring and assessing the impact of the program amidst a NATO pullout, as the inspector general of the government watchdog on Afghanistan reconstruction pointed out.

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Restore public confidence in vaccines

Natural-lifestyle parents in California’s anti-vaccine communities seem to believe that it’s better that their children get childhood diseases than to have toxins put into their bodies by being vaccinated. This reasoning is equivalent to brushing teeth with organic, fluoride-free toothpaste and then developing cavity – except that, unlike cavity, measles is contagious and can kill.

Given that the falling rate of immunization has allowed measles to resurge, after it was declared eliminated 15 years ago, an awareness-raising campaign is in order. It’s good that California is trying to make it harder for parents to opt out of vaccinating children, but that doesn’t diminish the need to address the public’s lack of knowledge, misinformation or distrust.

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Send Development Aid to North Africa, Not Drones

With the unforgiving sun beating down on creaking donkey carts in bone-dry heat, it is evident to first-time visitors that Nouakchott, the capital of Mauritania, is one of the poorest places on earth.

It’s also one of the four countries in North and West Africa, along with Libya, Niger and Mali, where the Pentagon is pumping millions into to build elite counter-terrorism units. About $29 million has been set aside for logistics and surveillance equipment for Mauritania. Secretary Kerry called the air capacity and counter-terrorism training given to the Mauritanian armed forces “a regional solution to a regional problem.” It recalls his 2004 campaign quip about the Bush administration’s outsourcing of finding bin Laden to the Pashtuns, only this time we are outsourcing the fight to African armies barely capable of countering Islamic terrorism.

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Give smart aid to protect gains in Afghanistan

A few years after 9/11, I worked for an aid agency in Kabul. One of the memories I cherish most is that of Sahar, a soft-spoken Afghan who was 20 then. Her mom didn’t like her working, because she was a woman. But she showed up every morning, her head wrapped in chador and her large brown eyes both cautious and curious. I taught her how to use Excel and convert Afghanis into U.S. dollars. She said she wanted to be an interior designer someday.

One time, she told me in passing that she’d never smoked a cigarette. So I bought a pack, locked the office door, and showed her how to smoke (“Inhale, Sahar, inhale”). I don’t think she enjoyed the taste, but she was thrilled to hold a cigarette.

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A Fish Net and a Boat

Cyclone Nargis ravaged Myanmar in May of 2008, wiping out the Southeast Asian country’s western coast.  The opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi was still under house arrest, and the military Myanmar government, apprehensive about the waves of incoming foreign aid workers, allowed only Asian passport-holders to enter the country for post-disaster reconstruction work.

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UNDP Doctor Treats One Village at a Time

Bogale, Myanmar, 10 June 2008 — Every morning since Cyclone Nargis made landfall, Doctor Ye Lwin has been getting up at five o’clock. After morning prayers, he starts seeing patients who have travelled a long way to come to the makeshift clinic UNDP has set up at its Bogale township office.

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UN Takes Lead to Give Roof And Walls to Tsunami Survivors in Tents

Aceh, Indonesia, September 30, 2005—When the Tsunami struck last December, Ibu Aja Cut of Teunom Village in the Aceh Jaya District on Aceh’s West Coast lost all her family members, save two grandchildren. Her house vanished off the face of the earth. The 70-year-old spent the next nine months in a six square meter emergency tent with her two surviving grandchildren. Two weeks ago, they moved into a newly erected temporary shelter. In the 36 square meter room with wooden walls, a metal roof, an open kitchen and two makeshift beds, Ibu Aja Cut, for the first time since the disaster, sees ray of hope.

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