By Daniel Hunter

The UK will support more women in Afghanistan to take part in local and national elections, to build up democratic participation and female leadership.

The new funding will encourage women to vote and more candidates to take part in the 2014 presidential and provincial elections as well as the 2015 parliamentary elections.

It will also help more than 50 female members of parliament and 100 female provincial councillors with training in essential political skills, such as developing strategies, negotiating, campaigning, fundraising, leadership and decision making.

Despite recent progress in women’s rights in Afghanistan, women still face very significant challenges, from physical violence to psychological abuse. A 2012 survey by the Asia Foundation found that almost half (46%) of those surveyed believed men should advise or be consulted before a woman votes.

The pledge of £4.5 million to increase women’s participation in democracy was announced by Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander this week during his visit to the country.

Mr Alexander heard from Afghan women about how they are seeking to overcome the challenges they face and play an active role in the country’s upcoming elections.

Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander said:

To truly rebuild Afghanistan, we have to get women voting and standing for election. Women are the key to building a democratic and safe country. They are the future of Afghanistan. Having taken Afghanistan out of the hands of terrorists, we are now working hard to return it to the people. This extra funding will help women lead the way.

At a roundtable discussion with women from Helmand, including councillors, Mr Alexander heard about the vital role women, young people and civil society will play in the country’s upcoming elections. He also discussed the significant challenges faced by women seeking an active role in politics.

The UK government is already one of the main donors helping Afghan democracy organisations to conduct extensive electoral observation. This new support is in addition to the £12 million already pledged by the UK to help build confidence in the Afghan electoral process.

Mr Alexander also met with secondary school girls who talked about the challenges of increasing the number of girls in secondary education and the growing importance of women and girls in Afghanistan’s society.

During the visit, he saw how the UK’s recent pledge of £47 million will help get girls in some of the poorest rural areas of Afghanistan access to a quality education through the Girls’ Education Challenge Fund.

The funding, over 3 years, will invest in innovative approaches to improve girls’ education from early childhood through to secondary school and will aim to get more than 250,000 Afghan girls into education.

He added:

Education is a key part of improving the lives of Afghanistan’s women and girls. It is critical to upholding women’s rights and improving their job opportunities. There are no short-term, quick-fix solutions.

Around 6 million children regularly attend school. This includes well over 2 million girls, compared with virtually none under the Taliban. The support which the UK is providing to education and female participation in elections will play a big part in improving the lives of generations of Afghan women and girls.

The £47 million Girl’s Education Challenge Fund is investing in girls’ education in some of the poorest areas of Afghanistan. The programmes will support a teacher apprenticeship scheme that will help girls move from secondary school into teaching, supporting the next generation of girls; and will increase the involvement of parents and the community in how girls are learning; and will provide a ‘second-chance’ literacy programme for older girls who missed schooling.

The UK government is committed to ensuring that the gains made in recent years — including in education — can be built upon for the future. It has agreed to provide £178 million of development funding every year until at least 2017.