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South Asia: Is Afghanistan ready to provide equitable access to quality education for girls?

By Srimal Fernando and Nazi Karim

Afghanistan government declared 2018 as the “Year of Education”. The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) 2018 reports state that one in three girls are currently attending school and, around 2.7 million girls are out of school.  These statistics about education for girls and women in Afghanistan are likely to have far-reaching effects on socio-economic aspects of gender. So far, Afghans are waiting to see what changes the countries policymakers, stakeholders and the international community brings. The nation is trying times are not over as some analysts fear.  Based on a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) recommendation experts believe Afghanistan should spend up to 20 per cent of the total national budget, and 6 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP) as a part of the efforts to bridge the educational gap. Despite all of the setbacks, the international community wants to improve educational systems in both urban and rural areas for future generations. Since 2016-more than 4,000 community-based education classes have received funding through UNICEF   and    USAID supported initiatives. Till now, over   47million textbooks were distributed among student by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID   ) to communities across the nation since there were various textbook shortages in the country. Looking back at the recent setbacks in education for girls, one could argue and reflect back upon the Taliban regime’s days when girls were completely banned from attending school. Eighteen years later still the challenges to overcome and the barriers for Afghan girls to attend school and pursue their education in many ways is a serious issue to be overcome regardless of policy efforts adopted by the government and the non-government cooperation.

In this opinion piece, Nazi Karim, one of the opinion writers mentioned “I passed a girl’s school in the crowded area of Kabul. Girls with white scarves and black clothes are crossing the roads and are walking home from school happy and joyfully.  A beautiful scenery which can flourish hope in one’s heart but it is not the big picture of girls’ education in Afghanistan. Both boys and girl’s education are impacted by Insecurity, on-going conflicts, and poverty. More than 3.5 million Afghan children are out of the school of which three-quarters of them are girls”. Karim ’s opinion seemed to have raised questions and sends a warning that commitment to continuing education for boys and girls for a better future under challenging circumstances, could not be ignored.

It is, however, essential to keep in mind the mentalities in patriarchy and conservative society can be a problem in most families where girl’s education is not given priority, instead, it is believed that it would be sufficient for girls to be able to read and write and as soon as they reach puberty. As a result, their parents prevent them from going to school.In some other cases, families who are facing financial instability prefer to educate the male child than a female child. Even though some families make the children work and get them educated. ‌But due to work and various social pressure, these vulnerable students soon drop out of school. This  trend   leads   to money-making   activities  which keeps them out    schooling.  Another area which has posed enormous challenges is early marriages which deeply impacts girls education in Afghanistan. Although the legal age for marriage is 18 years arrange marriages are enforced by some families at younger ages. This leads to early pregnancies and disturbance in a girl’s education progression.

Similar to the discussion on financial stability another important point worth mentioning is the security situation in the country.  The on-going conflicts, insecurities, and government and attacks on girl’s school by insurgency creates a challenging situation for the progress of girls. On latest news alerts and current situation analysis released reported states closure of dozens of schools especially Paktia Province and Logar province due to re-emergence of insurgency-related activities. There is another valuable lesson that emerges from     Afghanistan’s situation. As insurgent s   torch schools in specific volatile regions in the country, parents in particular families feel insecure about sending their children to school.  It is, therefore, challenging sometimes to get a clear notion of the exact situation.

Looking on the bright side, awareness raising among parents, religious leaders and community leadersby exchange of ideas  begins  to prioritise essential   areas  regarding the safety needs and security  especially  in girl’s schools and  building the  capacities   of  female  school teachers  through  various training  programmes nurtures  a powerful learning experience  for  Afghan girl students.Some kind of turning point   is desirable to  transform this unavoidable situation into a positive  manner.

Srimal Fernando is a Global Editor for Diplomatic Society of South Africa and an International Affairs Research Scholar at Jindal School of International Affairs (JSIA) India. Nazi Karim is a contributing op-ed writer from Afghanistan  and   a Master of Arts (M.A.)   graduate in Sociology from South Asian University India.

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