Afghans supported Personal Freedoms, Women’s Education in Asia Society Poll

Surprises in the Asia Society poll done in June, 2009, of attitudes of Afghans. It was a big poll, with some 6400 respondents from all over the country. It reveals a society increasingly connected by new communications technology, where devotion to democratic values is deepening and commitment to women’s rights is rapidly growing. The stereotype of Afghan traditionalism and rigidity, and the stagnation of a traditional society, is powerfully challenged here.
So too is the idea that Talibanism is coming back as an appealing ideology.

Here are some things I didn’t expect:

Afghans were more optimistic than before about the direction of their country. They also had, in June, a touching confidence that the August presidential election would be carried out in a fair way.

Afghans said in unprecedentedly high numbers that that freedom (54%) and peace (41%) were among the greatest benefits they expected from democracy. They are more realistic, though, that it won’t end corruption and may not lead to prosperity. But it seems that a sense of personal liberty is growing in most of the country, to which people are becoming attached. They also seem to have reached a conclusion that democracy leads to social peace because conflicts are reworked into politics.

On the other hand, they are not sure they have liberty. Some 40% said that people are now free to express their opinions publicly, while 39% disagreed, complaining that speech is restricted. Fewer (29%) cited security concerns as a limit on free speech than ever before (in 2007 it was 40%). One in five specifically name the Taliban as part of that threat to freedom of expression.

Some 61% said it is unacceptable to speak ill of the government, a pretty authoritarian, pro-Karzai stance. But that was down from 69% in 2007.

Some 78% say democracy is the best form of government in 2009 (down slightly from 2008, but still the overwhelming majority). Last summer, 69% said that they were satisfied with how it is working in Afghanistan, unchanged from the previous year.

Half of Afghans believe that illiteracy is the major problem bedeviling Afghan women. There is also growing support for their right to work outside the house. The report says: “over the same period there has been a consistent rise in the proportion of respondents who identify the lack of employment opportunities for women as a significant issue, from two percent in 2006 to 19 percent in 2007, 24 percent in 2008 and 28 percent in 2009.”

A quarter of Afghans now think there are too few jobs outside the home for women up from 2% three years ago! Some 67 percent think women should be allowed to work. (This employment for women outside her own house had been forbidden by the Taliban, even though the country is awash in widows).

Afghans, aside from a small Taliban fringe, strongly support education for women and equal rights for them under the law. Some 87% support equal opportunity for education for both sexes, and 83% favor women continuing to have the right to vote.

On the other hand, Afghans’ enthusiasm for women serving at all levels of political life has declined.

Most get their news from transistor radio, although radio ownership is declining.

A majority of Afghans (52%) now use cell phones–a big increase over previous years.

The ubiquity of cell phones would have implications for political mobilization, since people can now network more easily. We’ve seen it in neghboring Pakistan.

It is clear from these responses that the hard line ideology of the Taliban is rejected by the vast majority of Afghans, for whom it has no appeal. Indeed, openness to new thinking– the importance of personal liberty, freedom of speech, employment opportunities and education for women– has been rapidly increasing.

One rather fears that Karzai’s alleged stealing of the presidential election may have weakened faith in democracy. We’ll know more the next time such a survey is done. One thing is clear: ideas and values are in enormous flux, and the idea of a return of the Taliban to power in a country that thinks like this is highly unlikely.

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3 Responses

  1. "Some 61% said it is unacceptable to speak ill of the government, a pretty authoritarian, pro-Karzai stance. "

    Think about this a minute. At very best 20% of the electorate voted voted for Karzai. What does this suggest about the poll?

    So many conclusions seem highly unlikely :
    – "A quarter of Afghans now think there are too few jobs outside the home for women up from 2% three years ago! Some 67 percent think women should be allowed to work."
    – "Some 78% say democracy is the best form of government in 2009 (down slightly from 2008, but still the overwhelming majority). Last summer, 69% said that they were satisfied with how it is working in Afghanistan"

    Why should we trust the results of this poll? Who was polled, and how?

    Is it really possible to conduct a reliable poll in Afghanistan?

  2. link to hdrstats.undp.org

    December, 2009

    Human Development Report: Afghanistan

    Each year since 1990 the Human Development Report has published the human development index (HDI) which looks beyond GDP to a broader definition of well-being. The HDI provides a composite measure of three dimensions of human development: living a long and healthy life (measured by life expectancy), being educated (measured by adult literacy and enrolment in education) and having a decent standard of living (measured by purchasing power parity, PPP, income). The index is not in any sense a comprehensive measure of human development. It does not, for example, include important indicators such as gender or income inequality nor more difficult to measure concepts like respect for human rights and political freedoms. What it does provide is a broadened prism for viewing human progress and the complex relationship between income and well-being.

    Of the components of the HDI, only income and school enrollment are somewhat responsive to short term policy changes. For that reason, it is important to examine changes in the human development index over time. The human development index trends tell an important story in that respect. HDI scores in all regions have increased progressively over the years although all have experienced periods of slower growth or even reversals.

    This year's HDI, which refers to 2007, highlights the very large gaps in well-being and life chances that continue to divide our increasingly interconnected world. The HDI for Afghanistan is 0.352, which gives the country a rank of 181 out of 182 countries with data.

    Afghanistan’s human development index, 2007

    HDI value
    Life expectancy at birth in years
    Adult literacy rate, 15 and above
    School enrollment ratio
    Gross Domestic Product per capita

    (Rank) (Value)

    ( 181) ( 0.352)
    ( 176) ( 43.6 years)
    ( 150) ( 28.0%)
    ( 156) ( 50.1%)
    ( 164) ( $1,054)

    By looking at some of the most fundamental aspects of people’s lives and opportunities the HDI provides a much more complete picture of a country's development than other indicators, such as GDP per capita. Countries on the same level of HDI can have very different levels of income or that countries with similar levels of income can have very different HDIs.

    Human poverty: focusing on the most deprived in multiple dimensions of poverty

    The HDI measures the average progress of a country in human development. The Human Poverty Index (HPI), focuses on the proportion of people below certain threshold levels in each of the dimensions of the human development index – living a long and healthy life, having access to education, and a decent standard of living. By looking beyond income deprivation, the HPI represents a multi-dimensional alternative to the $1.25 a day (PPP US$) poverty measure.

    The HPI value of 59.8% for Afghanistan, ranks 135 among 135 countries for which the index has been calculated.

    The HPI measures severe deprivation in health by the proportion of people who are not expected to survive to age 40. Education is measured by the adult illiteracy rate. And a decent standard of living is measured by the unweighted average of people not using an improved water source and the proportion of children under age 5 who are underweight for their age.

    Selected indicators of human poverty for Afghanistan

    Human Poverty Index
    Probability of not surviving to age 40
    Adult illiteracy rate, 15 and above
    People not using an improved water source
    Children underweight for age, under 5

    (Rank) (Value)

    ( 135) ( 59.8%)
    ( 150) ( 40.7%)
    ( 150) ( 72.0%)
    ( 150) ( 78%)
    ( 129) ( 39%)

  3. How reliable is a poll conducted in a country that has a 28% literacy rate?

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