Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Drive to Get More Girls Back to School

As the school year starts, the continued campaign to encourage families to send daughters to school will have a special focus on rural areas.
By IWPR Afghanistan

As a new school year begins, a record number of children are enrolled in the country’s schools. But national and international officials know that more needs to be done, especially when it comes to providing educational opportunities for girls.


The education ministry, with help from the United Nations children’s fund UNICEF, has begun a campaign to enroll an extra 500,000 girls in schools across the country, particularly in rural districts.


Because many remote areas lack school buildings, the programme will pay for mosques and homes to be fitted out as classrooms. About 75,000 girls are already studying in such temporary schools.


The main obstacle is not a lack of facilities, however. Authorities are hoping to overcome years of prejudice by showing parents and village leaders the benefits of educating girls as well as boys.


UNICEF and the government started laying the groundwork for the education drive last October, when interviewers fanned out into remote communities to ask families why their daughters were not in school.


"What they found were actually two key things which families thought were important," UNICEF spokesman Edward Carwardine told IWPR. "One was that it was a matter of pride for an Afghan family to have an educated girl, and that most families said they would feel proud of their girls if they were educated.


"The second thing was that because this is an Islamic country, it was very clear that people believed that to be a good Muslim, you have to be able to read and write - whether you're a boy or whether you're a girl."


In practice, however, many families continue to prevent their daughters from getting an education.


“I wish my father would let me go to school," said Farida, 14, who lives in Chak in Wardak province, about 90 kilometres southwest of Kabul. "When I ask my father about school, he tells me education is not for women. Women are only for housework, and improving your life is your husband’s job, not yours."


Farida’s mother, Habiba, sides with her daughter. She hopes the government's campaign will help change her husband’s mind.


Carwardine said it would take time, particularly because the education drive is aimed at people in isolated areas. In addition to television and radio, the government is using posters and even banners strung across roads to get the message across.


"We have material for religious leaders; we have material for community leaders, we have material for speakers," said Carwardine, "so that they can then explain in their communities the importance of education.”


Rustam Faqir Zada, a senior education ministry official, said the campaign was more likely to succeed in rural areas than in heavier populated places like Kabul, which has seen an influx of thousands of refugees in recent years, many of them seeking jobs that don't exist.


“Instead of going to school, they work with their fathers and mothers in animal husbandry and carpet weaving in order to earn a living, so this campaign will have no effect on them,” he said.


Most Afghan schools open in March, and the education ministry has sent out exercise books, pens, pencils and paper for more than two million children, plus over 90,000 sets of teaching aids. Enough material for 4.3 million children is expected to be available by mid-April, according to UNICEF officials.


Nationwide, about 1.2 million girls have enrolled in primary schools since 2002, but that still leaves more than one more than million who missing school, according to UNICEF figures.


Amanullah Nasrat is an IWPR staff writer in Kabul.