Solving problems for Afghan women and girls

CUPERTINO, Calif. — For a simple gesture, Ici Karzai, a translator for the American-led coalition troops in Afghanistan, makes a gesture that serves as a treasured reminder of the basic need for human dignity and peace.

Karzai recently wrote her daughters a letter expressing her gratitude to the Americans who supported her family during her time in the U.S. military. Karzai’s daughters attended school for the first time as a result of the aid she received here.

“It is my wish that you continue your education and become stronger with the teachings you have learned here in America,” she wrote in the letter. “Also, I hope that as long as you remain in America, you will remember that you do not have to fight or follow your parents’ example.”

Karzai’s story highlights an initiative launched this year by McKinsey Global Institute. The policy research and consulting firm assigned business leaders and advocates to examine the issues faced by Afghan women and girls in society.

According to the second-quarter report of the Women Presidents’ Organization and McKinsey’s Women’s Initiative, Afghan women currently face double the gender burden of work that typically accompanies women’s work in other regions, despite existing Afghanistan’s laws supporting them. The report noted that Afghan women are forced to work outside of their homes and face the additional pressures of public discrimination and personal risk.

Starting next year, McKinsey researchers, together with the Women Presidents’ Organization, will return to the country to gather more data and offer solutions to help address these shortcomings in women’s education, employment and health, said company research and policy analyst Laura Warren. The strategy is being called “human empowerment through human capital investment” (HEAT).

Warren said all of McKinsey’s employees are welcome to join in on the initiative, an idea echoed by fellow McKinsey researchers Linden Atkinson and Bruce Hoffman. The McKinsey report noted that the views of individuals on leadership diversity, as well as awareness, have become widely accepted as a measure of success and advancement, according to Warren.

“Through HEAT, we hope to adopt this idea and make leadership diversity a leadership concern,” she said.

Also as part of this initiative, McKinsey researchers and McKinsey Women’s Initiative staff will distribute education grants to enable, for example, the education of one secondary school girl from each district of Afghanistan, she said. The grant amounts will vary, depending on a district’s population.

“It’s a smart idea,” said Warren. “It’s more than a contribution from McKinsey and support from the business community. There’s a big human investment of helping women, improving their education and health, so they can better contribute to society in ways that will make a big difference.”

Warren said the HEAT initiative has focused on promoting “positive behavior.” That means making an initiative’s proponents feel as though they’re part of a community with a common purpose.

“There’s no reason for this to be a one-off thing. There are a lot of good things McKinsey can do,” Warren said. “We want to engage anyone who can contribute.”

Katherine Schmidgall, an English teacher at Moorestown High School in New Jersey, said she has seen the impact McKinsey and the Women Presidents’ Organization have had in pushing U.S. companies to commit to gender equity for employees.

“One of the good things with the Women Presidents’ Organization and the WE Hall of Fame is that we’re looking at changing corporate culture,” she said. “I see that happen in a kind of real way. There’s a bottom-up effect. The women who work in that organization and who are participating will want to do things the right way.”

Approaches like McKinsey’s are also moving the world forward, Schmidgall said.

“One of the things we’re doing here at the school is helping women become changemakers,” she said. “I think that’s a good reason to do it.”

Follow Waterline @mtwaterline

Leave a Comment