What Will Afghanistan’s Peace Jirga Mean for Girls’ Education, and What Will Girls’ Education Mean for the Country?
This post is part of a series leading up to the Women Deliver conference (www.womendeliver.org), a global meeting on maternal and reproductive health and the advancement of women and girls.
In advance of the Women Deliver conference (which kicks off tomorrow in Washington, D.C., and GAB will be covering it!) one of the topics most on my mind has been girls’ access to education, largely because of last month’s spate of attacks on girls’ schools in Afghanistan. Now, more stories about these attacks and about the current state of Afghan politics reveal the complex factors that prevent many girls in the country from receiving an education.
After the recent poison gas attacks on girls’ schools that sent dozens of students and teachers to the hospital, discussion has centered on Taliban members or sympathizers as suspects. The Taliban famously banned education for girls while they ruled Afghanistan from 1996-2001. They aren’t the only ones in Afghanistan who would like to keep girls out of school—many members of the staunchly traditional Pashtun ethnic group see no need for girls’ education, reports Afghan women’s rights organization Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan. However, conservative views about gender roles aren’t only thing keeping Afghan girls out of the classroom.
Today much of the country is eager to educate both boys and girls. USA Today reports:
Prior to the 2001 U.S.-led invasion that ousted the Taliban, virtually no girls were enrolled in school. Today, a record 2.5 million girls are enrolled in grades first through 12th, according to UNICEF, the United Nations‘ children’s fund. That’s up from 839,000 in 2002.
“The demand for girls education has increased and is increasing,” says Mohammad Sediq Patman, deputy minister for academic affairs at the Education Ministry in Kabul. “We receive letters from very remote districts. They used to consider girls schools a blasphemy. But today they ask for girls education.”
But even where schooling is desired, basic logistics like teachers, funding and supplies make it difficult to meet the demand. In particular, a lack of female teachers means that 50% of girls drop out of school between sixth and seventh grades because many consider it inappropriate for men to teach girls older than 13, reports USA Today. In response to this problem the Education Ministry is working to raise $200 million to train 50,000 to 100,000 female teachers.
While the government is struggling to make up for women’s lost opportunities during the rule of the Taliban, new concern is arising that President Hamid Karzai’s desire to negotiate peace with the Taliban will give the extremist group new avenues to institutionalize restrictions on education once again. Activists expressed concern during last week’s peace jirga in Kabul, where civil and social leaders met to discussion initiating talks with the Taliban. Of the 1,400 leaders expected to attend, only 30-50 were predicted to be women, according to Reuters, and their voices likely weren’t heard:
“There is a symbolic representation of Afghan women, The organizing committee has no women in its structure, only one or two have been identified to be facilitators,” said Ahmad Fahim Hakim, deputy chair of Afghanistan’s Independent Human Rights Commission.
“The positions of women in high-ranking roles have been significantly overshadowed … One could be cynical and say that the reason there are so few women is to encourage the Taliban to come,” he said.
It’s unlikely Karzai’s government will talk with the Taliban anytime soon, because the extremist group refuses to cooperate until US troops leave the country. Supporters of women’s rights are fearful though that the Taliban may eventually be granted a place in the government. Hopefully these activists and the government’s efforts to bolster girls’ education will strengthen enough to withstand future pressures.
After all education will be a major determining factor in Afghanistan’s development, as these statistics from Women Deliver remind us.
The World Bank found in a study of 100 countries that every 1 percent increase in the proportion of women with secondary education boosted a country’s annual per capita income growth rate by about 0.3 percentage points.
Girls who have one more year of education than the national average earn 10 to 20 percent more, on average – even more than the increase for boys.
Every year of education delays a girl’s marriage and reduces the number of children she has.
Educated women are less likely to die in pregnancy or childbirth and more likely to send their children to school.
If mothers have a primary school education, the mortality rate for their children under 5 is halved: they provide better nutrition and health care and spend more on the children.
Young people under 25 – half the world’s 6.5 billion people – need vocational and life skills and access to sexual and reproductive health information and services, if they are to take full part in their countries’ development and contribute to it.