Geneva Human Rights Council Highlight Girls’ Right to Education in Afghanistan

July 31, 2014

The negative media focus on war in Afghanistan during the past decade often misses a critical positive point: Large numbers of girls have gained access to education across the country. Indeed, according to the Afghan Ministry of Education (MoE), in just the past six years, girls’ enrollment in government schools increased by more than a third and the number of trained female teachers tripled.

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© Dialog-Institut/2014

A few weeks ago, I was invited to discuss successes in Afghan girls’ education, remaining barriers, and promising solutions with colleagues from Afghanistan and Turkey during an event organized on the margins of the Human Rights Council 26th session.

Dr. Wahidyar, Chief of Staff of the Afghanistan Ministry of Education, underscored the importance of education in Afghanistan. Dispelling myths to the contrary, Dr. Wahidyar pointed out that through history, Afghanistan has “not opposition to education, but opposition to the foreign ideals, behavior, and dress that caused…resistance to formal schooling for girls in Afghanistan.” In fact, Islam clearly requires education for both girls as well as boys.

Despite public demand for female education, barriers persist in Afghanistan. Insecurity, lack of schools, poor facilities, and a lingering shortage of female teachers continue to stymie progress. The Ministry of Education has taken important steps to overcome these obstacles, mobilizing community leaders to support girls’ education, investing in female teacher training, promoting safe and protective learning environments, and creating policies to support community-based schools (CBS) and integrate them into the government system.

Community Schools and Community Engagement: Key steps to creating a future for Afghan girls
Civil society efforts complement those of the Afghan government. Experience from 17 Afghan-Turk schools in 6 provinces shows that these schools encourage female enrollment by providing a safe and high quality international, multilingual, and skill-based education.[1]

Likewise, NGOs in Afghanistan work with the Ministry of Education to provide community-based education (CBE), a strategy that my research shows is extremely effective in improving educational opportunities for girls. In 2007-2008, I, along with my colleague Leigh Linden, conducted an evaluation of community-based schools established by the NGO CRS in Ghor Province, Afghanistan—one of several CBS models established with development assistance in the country. We found that these USAID-funded Ghor schools, increased access to education for all children and, incredibly, eliminated the gender gap in enrollment. Boys’ enrollment increased 35 percentage points, from 35 per cent to 70 per cent; and girls’ enrollment increased 52 percentage points, from 18 per cent to 70 per cent. The schools also significantly increased test scores for boys and even more so for girls. These schools work, particularly for girls, by delivering education with the community itself, reducing the distance that children have to travel and increasing community engagement and support for education.[2]

Building on this success, the Ministry of Education is working now to ensure that these NGO-supported schools are maintained in the long term by integrating them into the government system. To this end, my new study (with Joel Middleton and Cyrus Samii) will track the outcomes of different approaches to community-based education to learn how to sustain their impact once the Ministry assumes direct management. Results from the first wave of data collection should be available in spring 2015. Through this process the Government of Afghanistan will solidify these gains.

Increased investment in these promising strategies—community engagement, community-based education, multinational schools—while assessing how to make them most effective, are key steps toward creating a bright future for Afghan girls.


[1] Assistant professor of sociology at Fatih University, Semiha Topal, has carried out a research, which was supported by the Journalists and Writers Foundation, to reveal the effects of Turkish schools based in Afghanistan on girls’ education. As part of her research, Topal handed out a total of 669 questionnaires and also spoke with parents, teachers, school administrators and state officials. According to the results of the study, almost all of the Afghan students believe their social status will improve due to the education provided at the Turkish schools.

[2] This research was funded by the Spencer Foundation, National Science Foundation, US Institute of Peace, Weikart Family Foundation, and Columbia University. The full paper can be accessed here:


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Dr Dana Burde is the Assistant Professor of International Education, New York University and Amy Kapit is the Research Director, ALSE, New York University.

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