An educational impression of Afghanistan by Aldo de Pape
Last Saturday, March 8th 2014, the world celebrated International Women’s Day.
It was inspiring to witness all the initiatives celebrating the role of women in society – highlighting their many significant contributions to science, technology, business and education – but even more encouraging that such a day gave special attention to initiatives that continuously strive to help women all over the world.
Even though this moment of celebration was well-deserved, we cannot ignore that there is still a lot of work to be done when it comes to the empowerment of women.
Such a process starts with education.
A Gender Summary, launched yesterday by UNESCO and the United Nations Girls Education Initiative (UNGEI) reveals that a serious gender imbalance in global education has left over 100 million young women in low and lower middle income countries unable to read a single sentence. Additionally the summary states that only half of the 31 million girls currently out of school, will be able to enroll.
With the risk of repeating the obvious, it is eminent that we need to do more to educate women in this world.
Similar observations are shared in the Gender Summary that demonstrates the importance of investing in girls’ and women’s education, not just for the individual, but for the whole of society. If all women had a primary and secondary education, child marriages and child mortality could fall by 49 % and 64 % respectively. With just primary education for all women, maternal deaths could be reduced by two-thirds. Educating women can protect them from falling into poverty as well as by helping them find work and reducing the gender wage gap.
A country where women empowerment through education is needed is Afghanistan.
Under the rule of the Taliban government from 1996 through 2001, it was prohibited to educate girls in Afghanistan, causing a massive whole in the development of many women.
The Afghan school principal Nahida witnessed these backwards effects with horror:
“When the Taliban came to power, it was their policy to close all the schools for females. For me, it was difficult to go to school to teach. When I went to my school, the principal of the school was a Mullah and he didn’t allow me to enter the school and asked me after that not to come to school. But for the boys, school was open.
When I understood the policy of Taliban was not to allow girls and female teachers to go to school, I started a home school for girls because families and their parents asked me to teach their daughters. Families trust me because I was a well-known teacher in my school. I decided to continue my job and my responsibility for my people and my female students especially to help them. It was a very strict time. Very difficult. I was afraid. The home school was very secret, not official. In one day there were three shifts, two classes of 25 girls.
The Taliban thought I ran a class for the holy Koran – a religious class but I taught not only the holy Koran, but also all the subjects that were in school – the complete school curriculum. I did not receive any salary for this.”
Even though Afghanistan is investing heavily in the education of its women, the situation is still far from ideal. The country has the highest level of gender disparity in primary education in the world with only 71 girls in primary school for every 100 boys. It is likely to remain very far from the target of gender parity in primary education by 2015.[i]
Nahida explains why it is difficult to bridge the disparity gap:
“Now in Afghanistan, war continues every day. Here there are suicide attacks, bombs. The insecurity, and instability, is a big challenge for families, for our people, especially for girls attending the schools. You know, Afghanistan is a special country with special rules that must be followed by girls and women. When they want to go to school their parents are afraid about the lack of security, because suicide attacks happens, there are bombs and bad events in the city, many female students don’t come to school. For me as a director of this school, I have organized special transportation for my students. It’s a good solution to prevent absenteeism of girls from school.”
Despite these challenges, we should not cease to try to find solutions for this problem. One of these solutions, also suggested in the 2013/2014 UNESCO EFA report is more recruitment of female teachers – mainly in the Afghan provinces.
In Afghanistan, female teachers are vital for girls to be able to enroll in school, but women face cultural barriers in seeking work in areas where they are not chaperoned by family members. As a result there are twice as many female teachers as male teachers in the capital, Kabul, while in Uruzgan province, most of which is remote and unsafe, there are no female teachers who have the minimum qualification. Local recruitment of female teachers is one solution to such extreme inequality. Local recruitment has its benefits, such as teachers’ greater acceptance of a rural posting and reduced attrition, but some of the most disadvantaged communities lack competent applicants where access to primary schooling is low, as is the case in Afghanistan.
The report suggests other solutions when it comes to higher teacher involvement to make the difference for women in Afghanistan.One of them is offering teachers the proper training and education.
Our online learning initiative TeachPitch has recently received its first registrants from Afghanistan and is very keen to help them.
Nahida agrees that more investment in education and specifically in teachers can be the key to change the situation:
“Good salaries can bring big change, fundamental change in their life. Because of that I am optimistic about the future of education in our country. One thing that is more important is that the international community support the future of education through our Government. Educated people don’t take guns and don’t destroy their country and their schools.”
[i] Afghanistan Fact Sheet, UNESCO EFA Report 2013/2014