Study Finds Afghans Optimistic, Security Still Top Concern
 
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The Asia Foundation recently conducted a study of Afghans indicating 57 percent of the country thinks Afghanistan is moving in the right direction. While Afghans appeared generally optimistic, and even more so than past years, they still had many concerns and anxieties about the future.

Security, peace talks, corruption and economic infrastructure were the main focus areas of the study, which involved a sample of 9,260 men and women from 34 provinces. All the participants were 18-years or older, with 14 percent from urban areas and 86 percent from rural areas.

Here is a breakdown of the study's highlights:

National Mood

Fifty-seven percent of participants indicated Afghanistan is moving in the right direction. The same figure was only 46 percent in 2011 and 52 percent in 2012. This optimism was most prevalent in the central Hazara region, the southwest and southeastern parts of Afghanistan. The reasoning offered by participants for why they thought the country might be moving in the right direction was as follows:

32 percent "Construction"
24 percent "Improved Security"
13 percent "Reopening of Schools for Girls"
13 percent "Active Presence of Afghan forces"

Thirty-eight percent of the respondents stated that Afghanistan was moving in the wrong direction. They cited increasing insecurity, presence of corruption in government offices, unemployment, suicide bombings and Taliban activities as their primary reasons for holding that opinion. The distribution was as follows:

24 percent "Insecurity"
23 percent "Corruption"
20 percent "Unemployment"
11 percent "Suicide Bombings"
9 percent "Taliban activities"

Afghanistan's National Level Problems

This study showed insecurity, corruption, unemployment and bad economic conditions to be the biggest problems facing the country as a whole in the minds of Afghans. These numbers did not see much change from past years.

30 percent "Insecurity"
26 percent "Corruption"
25 percent "Unemployment"
10 percent "Economy"

"On a national level, security is the concern, but on a local level, security is not as important as employment, construction and roads," Asia Foundation Deputy in Afghanistan Abdullah Ahmadzai said.

According to the study, 27 percent said unemployment was the biggest problem facing the country, 24 percent said electricity supply was, 19 percent roads, another 19 percent the availability of drinking water, 14 percent said insecurity, 13 percent healthcare and 11 percent education.

Women's Issues

When asked about the most pressing problems facing Afghan women, participants identified education and illiteracy, a lack of job opportunities, women's rights, forced marriages and dowry payments and domestic violence. Although men and women reported many of these issues with equal frequency, women cited job opportunities with significantly higher frequency than men. The breakdown was as follows:

27 percent "Education and Illiteracy"
12 percent "Lack of Job Opportunities
10 percent "Women's Rights"
9 percent "Forced Marriages and Dowry Payments"
8 percent "Domestic Violence"

Although 90 percent of those interviewed said all Afghans, regardless of gender, should have equal rights under law, only 54 percent said state courts treat women and men equally and 68 percent said there should be local jirgas and shuras for women only.

Eighty-three percent said men and women should have equal opportunities in education, though women were significantly more likely to support equal education than men, as were urban respondents.

Sixty-three percent said women should be allowed to work outside the home, with the most support being shown in the central Hazara region of the country and the lowest level of support in the Southwestern region.

Security

A majority (59 percent) of Afghans surveyed said they feared for their or their family's safety always, often or sometimes this year, up from 48 percent in 2012. People in the West of Afghanistan reported feeling the most fear, with people in the central Hazara region the least.

Fifty-nine percent of the respondents said they are afraid of participating in the April elections and consider security to be a major challenge for the future of the country.

While 77 percent of respondents said they would be afraid to encounter a foreign soldier, 88 percent said they are confident in the Afghan
National Army (ANA) and 72 percent in the Afghan National Police (ANP).

According to the survey, since 2009, there has been decreasing support for armed opposition groups (AOGs). This year, only 35 percent of respondents said they have a little or a lot of sympathy for the armed opposition. Pashtuns were significantly more likely to have some sympathy for AOGs than other ethnic groups; urban Afghans were significantly more likely to have no sympathy than rural Afghans, and women are significantly more likely to have no sympathy for AOGs than men.

Economic Development and Services

Seventy-six percent of the respondents said that their household economic situation has improved from the Taliban era. But, based on the study, only 5 percent of the women are employed while 79 percent of men are.

Access to drinking water, education opportunities, health services, road conditions and electricity supply saw a wide range of satisfaction levels amongst the sample. The following figures show the distribution of satisfaction for each service or amenity.

74 percent "Access to Drinking Water"
72 percent "Education for Children"
52 percent "Clinics and Hospitals"
43 percent "Condition of Roads"
41 percent "Electricity Supply"

Governance
Seventy-five percent of respondents said they were satisfied with the government's performance in 2013, continuing a steady rise in confidence since 2008. However, when asked about the level of confidence they have in various public institutions, organizations, and officials, in virtually all cases Afghans' stated level of confidence in these various entities reached an eight-year low in 2013.

Public confidence in Parliament dropped 15 percent from 2012 to 2013.

Afghans see corruption as a major problem in all facets of life and at all levels of government. Around half said corruption is a major problem in their neighborhood and daily life, while 77 percent said corruption is a major problem in Afghanistan as a whole.

Political Participation:

Twenty-three percent of the respondents said that it was safer for them to express their opinions in their communities than it was a year ago, while only 17 percent say it is less safe and 56 percent reported no change since last year.

Sixty-eight percent of the respondents are still afraid of participating in peaceful demonstrations, while seventy-six percent said it is acceptable to
criticize government in public.

Only 48 percent of participants said they cane have some kind of influence on local governance decisions.

Although 61 percent of Afghans said they think elections are generally free and fair, 58 percent said they would be afraid in running for public office and 59 percent said they would be afraid in voting in a national or provincial election.

Access to Information

:According to the study, Afghans' use of communication and information technology is as follows

80 percent have access to radio
54 percent have access to TV
57 percent have access to a mobile phone
3 percent have access to the internet

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