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Afghanistan: Background

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Afghanistan has one the highest proportion of school-age (7-12) children in the world: about 1 in 5 Afghans is a school-age child. Despite success in sending children to school, trends in gender disparity in education remains worrisome. The literacy rate for young women (aged 15-24) is 18 per cent, compared to 50 per cent for boys and the primary school completion rate for boys is 32 per cent, versus 13 per cent for girls. In terms of cohort tracking, only 30 percent of girls (age 12 years) reach grade 5, compared to 56 per cent for boys.

According to the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission Report, 51.6 per cent of parents mention that the main factor preventing girls from attending primary school is accessibility and security. Other reported reasons why girls do not attend primary school are that the girls have to work (12.1 per cent), poverty (10.1 per cent) and child marriage (3.7 per cent).

Early marriages are very common; the mean age at first marriage is 17 years according to the 2003 Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey (MICS), the latest data source available on early marriages. The MICS also describes that child marriages account for 43 per cent of all marriages. This plays a part in the gender gap in education, with many associated health and social consequences such as the absence of female doctors/medical personnel, which makes access to medical services difficult for women.

Gender discrimination in Afghanistan is due to a combination of factors such as poverty, local traditions and the effects of war. Violence against women has been persistent in Afghanistan and is due to low status of women combined with long exposure to hostilities and conflict. Today, women hold one-third (68 seats) of the 249 seats in parliament. This relative high number of women in Parliament is the result of a minimum quota specified in the constitution. The large number of women in parliament will not make a major difference on women’s political participation unless women can also take part in local-level decision-making at the sub-national levels. At present, the Afghan MDG Report states that “women are poorly represented at the sub-national level and in local governance”.

Afghanistan is unlikely to meet Millennium Development Goals 2 and 3 unless further action is taken to bring about parity in education. For every 3 boys enrolled in school, 5 girls will have to be enrolled. This requires focused and targeted efforts from all actors. To stop discrimination and violence against women, there is a need to create awareness, change cultural practices and implement multiple efforts in legislations addressing women’s rights and women’s economic independence. Above all it requires political commitment and leadership at the highest levels.

Girls’ Education Initiative

UNGEI was launched in Afghanistan in March 2007 as the Afghanistan Girls’ Education Initiative (AGEI).

Partners

At the national level, major partners in girls’ education include: the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, Afghanistan Women’s Educational Centre (AWEC), BRAC, Canadian Embassy, Danish International Development Agency (DANIDA), Ministry of Higher Education, Ministry of Women’s Affairs, OXFAM, PACE-A (including CARE, IRC, CRS and AKF), Save the Children Alliance, Swedish Committee, Swedish Embassy, UNESCO, UNICEF, UNIFEM, USAID, World Bank.

Partnership has not been initiated at provincial and community levels.

Barriers to Girls’ Education

In addition to issues mentioned in the overview, the major barriers to girls’ education include security issues, limited access to education due to lack of basic school infrastructure in the country and lack of female teachers.

UNGEI in Action

The key objectives for the Afghanistan Girls’ Education Initiative are to:
• Strengthen national and international political commitment to improve the situation of girls’ education in the country through lobbying.
• Function as an information and network hub for girls’ education.
• Assist the Ministry of Education with strategies and implementation of activities to increase enrolment and retention of girls as outlined in the National Strategic Plan for Education (NSPE).

To address the barriers to girls’ education, the following are key activities:
• Strengthening the protection mechanism at schools/communities for possible school incidents (school burning, threatening, explosion etc).
• School construction as well as provision of community-based schools as the outreach schools.
• Providing incentives for female teachers.

Progress

The main activities carried out to date include:
• First Working Group Meeting, Afghanistan Girls’ Education Meeting (26 Mar 2007).
• Selection Process of Young Champions.

UNGEI within other National and International Frameworks

Members of AGEI, in addition to representing their organizations, will also speak for the Afghanistan Girls’ Education Initiative during planning and review processes such as Education for All, Millennium Development Goals, Afghanistan National Development Strategies (ANDS) review – Afghanistan’s equivalent to the poverty reduction strategy – and other opportunities to influence policies, processes, strategies and good practices for the acceleration of girls education. This will allow the strengthening of AGEI linkages and complementarily with other partners, networks and coalitions, and other frameworks.

 


 

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