Afghan women identify priority action points for Balkh municipal government in a policy to improve the environment. 

Experiencing many health issues arising in their community, and recognizing they can be part of the solution, a group of young Afghan women were inspired to draft a policy urging the Balkh municipal government to create a healthier environment by addressing environmental pollution. In particular, they cited air and water pollution and environmental degradation as the culprits for many diseases afflicting the population. The women also pointed to improper household waste disposal and loosely regulated mining operations as major contaminants of groundwater and natural water sources.

Fahima, one of the proponents of the policy, states “In the city of Balkh, black fumes from vehicles pollute the air. This gets worse during the winter because almost all households burn firewood to heat their homes. The population in Balkh is rapidly increasing, so we can expect even higher levels of pollution in a few years’ time.”

These women who are pushing to improve the environment in their locality are no seasoned politicians or activists. They are young women who are training for government careers through the year-long internship program of USAID Promote: Women in Government. Through this program, women learn the inner workings of government functions, leadership, planning, and innovative ways to improve government service.

The interns forwarded the policy to Balkh municipality, catching the attention of the municipal gender specialist who then endorsed the policy to the municipal council. The council, in turn, plan to invite the interns to present their work in a general meeting with district governors. “The interns brought attention to a perennial problem affecting all of us and they offered practical steps to mitigate this problem. I am impressed and proud of their work because, young as they are and barely out of university, they have a deep understanding of societal issues, and they know how to articulate their ideas. We need to have more educated women in our ranks as they bring energy and new insights to government,” the gender specialist said.

The civil service internship program is one of USAID’s mechanisms to support the Afghan government’s goal of increasing the involvement of women in the government. Internship trainings for almost 3,000 women are ongoing in Kabul, Herat, Balkh, Kandahar, and Nangarhar.