Critics accuse the government of squandering millions in foreign aid, but President Hamid Karzai says most waste occurs on development projects outside official control, and he wants direct access to more of the $13 billion pot.
One of the pillars of the conference is social development for women, a key issue after a rights group last week warned last week that they risked sacrificing hard-won freedoms as the government seeks peace with the hardline Islamist Taliban.
Following are some facts about women in Afghanistan:
RIGHTS AFTER THE TALIBAN
For five years under the Taliban’s Islamist regime, women were banned from education and work. Since the Taliban’s 2001 fall, women’s rights have improved.
But it is often still taboo for women and girls to go to school or work in rural areas. Forced marriage, often of young girls, is still common.
Afghan women are among the world’s worst off, and violence and rape are a “huge problem”, according to the United Nations.
A law for Afghanistan’s minority Shi’a Muslims caused international outcry because one of its articles was seen as permitting marital rape. U.S. President Barack Obama called the law “abhorant” and it was changed by President Hamid Karzai.
GOVERNMENT AND POLITICS
Karzai’s first cabinet after his 2004 election contained three female ministers and a female vice president. The current cabinet has a woman Minister for Martyrs and the Disabled, while two others are acting in women’s’ affairs and public health roles after permanent appointments were blocked by parliament.
The Afghan parliament uses a quota system to ensure at least 25 percent of seats go to women. While affirmative action is seen as necessary by many, some have complained that in many provinces women get seats based on gender rather than voter support.
Outside urban centers like Kabul and Herat, where Afghanistan’s only female chief prosecutor works, Afghan women are poorly represented in local government. The first female city mayor was appointed in Daikundi province last year.
Afghanistan has the second worst maternal mortality rate in the world, after Sierra Leone. For many women becoming pregnant is akin to a potentially fatal illness, the U.N. says. For every 100,000 live births, 1,600 women die in labor.
Poverty, rugged terrain and a shortage of female medical staff have contributed to the high maternal mortality rate. In remote northeast Badakhshan province, the rate is the world’s worst with 6,500 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births.
Although midwife numbers have increased over the past few years, it is still well under the 8,000 needed to help bring down the level of maternal mortality, the U.N. says.
The number of girls and women in education has soared since the ousting of the Taliban in 2001, but is still poor by world standards. Just 24 percent of girls were in secondary education by 2007, with drop-outs highest among older students.
Cultural and religious practices still keep many girls from school, especially in rural areas. Even in Kabul, girls are often harassed and bullied by young men for attending school.
According to the ministry of education between January 2006 and December 2008, there were 1,153 attacks on schools, from small arms explosions to death threats. The majority of attacks, 40 percent, were against girls’ schools.