Education International
Education International

Afghanistan: Rebuilding girls’ education after decades of conflict

published 12 March 2014 updated 13 March 2014

Nahida, a school principal in Kabul, is the third participant in the ten-week #TeacherTuesday campaign, organised around the Education For All (EFA) Global Monitoring Report (GMR) 2013/4. In Afghanistan, conflict has raged for decades, cultural opposition to girls’ schooling is deep-seated, and education for girls was banned altogether under the Taliban. Nahida describes how she has struggled for 25 years to defend and improve girls’ education in the face of gender bias and conflict that still affect her work every day.

After graduating from Kabul University in the late-1980s, Nahida became a teacher. But then the Taliban came to power.

Under the Taliban: a secret school for girls

“It was their policy to close all the schools for females,” she explained. “For me, it was difficult to go to school to teach. When I went to my school, the principal was a mullah and he didn’t allow me to enter 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 that was very secret and not official because families and their parents asked me to teach their daughters. It was a very strict time. Very difficult. I was afraid.”

When the Taliban fell, the way was open to restore education for girls. But, first, everything had to be rebuilt from scratch – there was literally nothing left.

“The girls came back slowly, slowly,” Nahida said. “I encouraged families, asked their parents to school, encouraged them, talked with them. Also, I sent my female teachers to their homes. I announced it in different mosques.”

Despite improvements over the decade, the EFA Global Monitoring Report 2013/4 shows that Afghanistan still has the highest level of gender disparity in primary education in the world with only 71 girls in primary school for every 100 boys. In 1999, no girls attended secondary school in the country. By 2011, there were still only 55 girls in secondary school for every 100 boys.

Ongoing violence

Nahida also underlined that for her and her students, the conflict in Afghanistan is far from over:

“Now in Afghanistan, war continues every day. There are suicide attacks, bombs. The insecurity and instability is a big challenge for our people, especially for girls. When a suicide attack happens, families don’t allow their girls to go to school for one or two days. Also for boys, but especially for girls. I have organised special transportation for my students. It’s a good solution to prevent absenteeism of girls from school.”

For her, education is not something to be viewed as a problem, but as part of the solution for breaking the cycle of conflict: “Educated people don’t take up guns,” she said. “They don’t destroy their country and their schools.”

Struggle to hire and train enough women teachers

Nahida’s long experience underlines how important it is for governments to hire and train female teachers. As the new gender summary of the EFA Global Monitoring Report 2013/4 shows, however, women teachers are particularly lacking in areas with wide gender disparity in enrolment.

In 2008, in Afghanistan, less than 30 per cent of those in initial teacher education were female, even though the numbers had been increasing thanks to programmes enabling women to enter teaching with lower qualifications. In 2011, less than a third of teachers in primary education in the country were female.

In the 2013/4 EFA Global Monitoring Report, recommendations are outlined to help policy makers encourage more female teachers to work in disadvantaged areas. These include providing female teachers with incentives, such as safe housing, to move to rural areas. Alternatively, local recruitment can also ensure that poor, rural girls receive the benefits of being taught by a female teacher.

In the case of Afghanistan, the government aims to increase the number of female teachers by 50 per cent by 2014 with monetary and housing incentives for female teachers, and special teacher training programmes for women in remote areas and women who do not meet current qualification requirements.

EI: Equity a key part of quality education

“Nahida’s experience demonstrates teachers’ deep commitment to all their students, girls and boys,” said EI General Secretary Fred van Leeuwen. “Like her, we want quality education through quality teachers for all, girls and boys. Afghanistan, and no country the world over, can achieve quality education for all if there is no equity in access to it. Violence therefore must be totally eradicated inside and outside the classroom. Schools must be considered safe sanctuaries.”

Girls and women’s education and participation in education, trade unions, and society will be at the core of discussions at EI’s Second World Women’s Conference, he went on to stress.

He further called on everyone joining EI’s call to Unite for quality education to also join the UNESCO’s TeacherTuesday.

Read the #TeacherTuesday article in its entirety here