What it’s like being a female student in Afghanistan today

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Nathalie Lahire attends a class along with students in Abul-Qasim Ferdowsi Girls High School in Kabul
Nathalie Lahire attends a class along with students in Abul-Qasim Ferdowsi Girls High School in Kabul. Photo Credit: World Bank

Afghanistan offers diverse opportunities and challenges for girls depending on where they live and the attitudes toward girls’ education in their community .
Further to that, rural or urban infrastructure, the commitment levels of teachers, and the nature or extent of corruption in the community can affect how a female student will perform in school.
In general, the past many years of conflict and political unrest in Afghanistan have damaged the country’s education system; eroding the quality of staffing and curriculum.
The education sector has been at the forefront of political conflicts and caught in between competing interest groups .
As a result, the unfavorable political economy has blocked policy reforms and their implementation, taking a toll on the quality of education services.
This has led to weakened governance.
Still, enrollment in school districts in Afghanistan is at surprising levels .

Is education enrollment declining in Afghanistan?
Not according to our recent analysis – Afghanistan: promoting education during times of increased fragility.
Since 2005, the number of students enrolled in school has increased ninefold  with the most significant expansion at the primary level (showing growth by almost 10 percent every year).
Enrollment has expanded at a slower pace at the lower- and upper- secondary levels. In total, general education schools added approximately 1.3 million students between 2011 and 2015 .
Both Islamic schools and Technological and Vocational institutions (TVET) have increased their enrollments as well. Islamic schools have more than doubled their enrollment from 2011 to 2015 and since 2002, TVET enrollment has increased for both male and female students.
While these numbers are vastly improving, it is important to distinguish between students who are enrolled in class and students who attend class.
While the gross enrollment rate for students in Afghanistan is estimated at 95 percent , the average attendance ratio for primary education was only 57 percent and secondary education at 35 percent.

Girls attend their class in Sofia Amma Jan Girls School in southern Kandahar Province. Photo Credit: Rumi Consultancy/ World Bank

Who goes to school and who does not?
Factors that determine one’s access to schooling include the parents’ education and economic status, a child’s gender, and their location.
Children and youth from the lowest income status are nearly half as likely to attend school compared to children from higher income.
Children with literate parents have enrollment rates three times higher than those without literate parents .
Gaps in access between male and female students arise in early grades and widen as students move up the educational levels. Even in Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan, gross enrollment among girls is significantly lower than boys.
As mentioned earlier, conflict and poverty are major sources of decline in girls’ access to education. Many parents also require their daughters to stay at home and work instead of attending school.  According to household data, most children between the ages of 7 and 17 are working . This is especially seen in the Kuchi’s (a group of Afghan nomads), where 85 percent of youth work.
Is there a solution?
The rate of Afghan youth is growing slower than the rate of working adults . This trend, which is expected to continue into the foreseeable future, will ease pressure on the government to expand services, which may lead to a decline for the need of child labor.
For this to happen, the country must improve the equality of its education . Conflict is a major reason for school absence or dropouts.
Therefore, a priority would be to stabilize and expand access to education by encouraging regular attendance . Schools should be empowered to find ways to encourage parents, specifically of girls, to send their children to school. Finally, zeroing in on an equal distribution of resources would ensure that provinces with low levels of schooling receive enough teachers and school supplies.
There are many initiatives led by Afghans themselves that are playing an important role in changing perceptions of educating females . Empowering girls can play a key role in modernizing Afghanistan. Many volunteers who work in remote areas use their homes and any available resources to teach girls in their neighborhood and communities.
Moreover, all such reforms are being tackled in the forthcoming general education project called EQRA. With a total budget of $298 million, EQRA aims to increase equitable access to primary and secondary education, particularly for girls , in selected lagging provinces, and to improve learning conditions in Afghanistan. 


Nathalie Lahire

Human Development Program Leader

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