Afghanistan – Up to 60% of Girls Not in School – Major Drop for Girls’ Education
Date: September 26, 2018
Despite efforts to improve girls’ education in Afghanistan, just one in three currently attends school, UNICEF reports.
Nearly half of all children in Afghanistan are out of school due to conflict, poverty, child marriage and discrimination [Parwiz/Reuters]
According to a report by UNICEF, some 3.7 million children between the ages of seven and 17, or 44 percent, are out of school, with girls accounting for 2.7 million of that figure, 60 percent.
“The ongoing conflict and worsening security situation across the country, combined with deeply ingrained poverty and discrimination against girls, have pushed the rate of out-of-school children up for the first time since 2002 levels,” UNICEF’s Afghanistan country study said in a statement.
The spread of violence had forced many schools to close, undermining fragile gains in education for girls in a country where millions have never set foot in a classroom.
The report added that up to 85 percent of girls were not going to school in some of the worst-affected provinces, such as Kandahar, Helmand, Wardak, Paktika, Zabul and Uruzgan.
Adele Khodr, UNICEF’s Afghanistan representative, said those out of school were at an “increased danger of abuse, exploitation and recruitment [into armed gangs].”
She also emphasised the importance of school in giving children a point of orientation amid the disruptions caused by conflict.
“[Schooling] is about providing routine and stability in life, which is a wise investment given the insecurity across parts of the country,” Khodr added.
Among others, the report also marked child marriage, shortage of female teachers and poor infrastructure as the main reasons further aggravating the situation.
‘Year of Education’
Without mentioning the Taliban or the local chapter of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS), Education Minister Mirwais Balkhi said there were “many reasons” for children not going to school.
The Taliban have waged a rebellion against the Western-backed Kabul government since being toppled from power in 2001 and has intensified attacks across the country in recent months, despite the cold winter months.
“Education of children is the most important development in all human communities,” he said.
“It is the most important tool in fighting war, poverty and unemployment.”
This comes as the Afghan government has declared 2018 as the “Year of Education”.
Afghanistan – How Afghan Authorities Could Get Thousands of Girls into School
02 Aug 2018 – Giving them separate toilets, recruiting female teachers and addressing security concerns could all help, says a rights worker who talked to hundreds of families.
The number of girls attending school in Afghanistan has fallen by more than 200,000. But simple things such as building more toilets would be one way of addressing the nation’s education crisis.
At least 206,000 fewer girls were in school in Afghanistan during the 2016-17 semester compared to the previous year, according to government figures.
While the number of boys in education also fell dramatically – by 124,000 – girls are wore affected by not being in school and the situation needs to be urgently addressed, said Human Rights Watch.
In an interview with Their News, Heather Barr – a senior researcher with the organisation – said simple strategies plus more political will could get hundreds of thousands of girls back to school.
Barr is based in Islamabad, Pakistan, but lived in the Afghan capital Kabul for six years while working for the UN and Human Rights Watch.
Two years ago she travelled across Afghanistan, asking hundreds of girls and their parents why their children were not in school.
Barr said that after 17 years of foreign aid, Afghanistan still lacks the most basic components of an education system for girls.
She said that 60% of government schools have no toilets, which is a major problem for girls as they reach puberty and begin menstruating.
“It’s not the Taliban who are stopping the government from building toilets. It’s their (the government’s) own apathy, or perhaps antipathy for girls’ education,” Barr claimed.
Pointing out there are twice as many schools for boys as for girls, she said this “form of discrimination” could be fixed almost overnight by adding shifts for girls at boys’ schools.
A lack of education can hugely impact a girl’s future life.
Barr said: “If you can’t read then daily functioning is challenging. It’s difficult to go to the market and do grocery shopping.
“It’s difficult to buy medicine for yourself and your kids, it’s difficult to absorb public health information about getting prenatal care, and about food hygiene.
“Having just a basic education can have a major impact on women’s health, even if they can’t go out into the workforce – life expectancy, the life expectancy of their children, the likelihood their children will go to school.
“So keeping girls out of education can have a devastating impact on – not just them – but their families and their communities. This also reinforces gender discrimination.
“If women are consistently less educated than men, it makes them less respected in the family, less able to have decision making power in the family, more likely to be subject to things like harmful child labour and child marriage.
“Education is one of the most powerful things you can do. There are more than twice as many boys’ schools as girls schools. This is in 2018, after 17 years of international funding for the school system – how is that possible?”
Barr said that hiring more female teachers is essential. She explained that in half of the country’s provinces, 20% of teachers or less are women. Many families will only send their daughters to school if the teacher is a woman.
Barr also said that Afghanistan’s security situation is often used as an excuse for the government’s failure in girls’ education.
“I think the security concerns are absolutely true. I think that a lot of girls and boys – but girls in particular – are facing barriers to education because of the conflict, because they are internally displaced, because their parents have genuine and legitimate fears about dangers they might face at school and on their way to school.
“Not only because there’s a war going on but because a war is going on in which insurgent groups are sometimes targeting girls’ education, female students and female teachers.
“So they are all legitimate concerns. But they are not an explanation for why the government doesn’t supply an equal number of schools for girls.
“The government hasn’t built toilets, the government doesn’t build boundary walls for girls to be able to go to school. And why has the government been so slow in recruiting female teachers?
“The government has a lot of excuses for this and they say, ‘women don’t want these jobs, women don’t want to go to remote areas and women are concerned about security’.
“But I know from my years there, that people are desperate for work. Women are joining the police and the army in Afghanistan and being killed. And these professions are deeply unconventional for women. So they can’t tell me that they can’t hire female teachers of you decided to do that.”
The overall security situation has certainly deteriorated over the past few years in Afghanistan, as the Taliban have been able to influence and, to some extent, control larger parts of the country.
They have intensified their attacks in large urban areas, ostensibly targeting Afghan government and foreign military facilities by using means that cause massive and indiscriminate casualties.
There was more violence in the past few days when gunmen stormed a midwife training centre in the eastern Afghan city of Jalalabad, fighting security forces for several hours and killing several staff.
Nearly 70 people, including students and teachers, were inside the centre in the capital of Nangarhar province at the time of the attack.
Barr fully understands and acknowledges the gravity of the situation but says the government could do much more to improve girls’ education.
She said: “The security situation is dire and getting worse – and when we talked to people and said tell us what are the problems’ for girls’ education, security is what people talk about first usually.
“But one of the things I really wanted to explain is that we can’t let that be the end of the discussion. Sometimes that’s being used as an excuse. It’s being used sometimes as an excuse by parents, who actually don’t think their daughters should go to school.
“But rather than say that, it’s easier to blame insecurity – at the same time when a son is being sent to school. But much more pernicious that that, I think, is that the government is using that as an excuse.
“I don’t believe there is a very deep commitment to girls’ education on the part of some people in the Afghan government.
“I would not say that about everyone but, institutionally, if you look at the decisions made by the government, the way the money is being spent and the policies and practices within the Ministry of Education, you can’t actually see there is a genuine commitment to equality in education.”
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