Reconnecting Afghanistan: From Instability to Opportunity
For centuries, Afghanistan was integral to connectivity—through the Silk Road’s trade and cultural exchange—between Asia and Europe, and within Asia itself. While decades of conflict have diminished this centrality, collaboration and integration remain critical to regional stability.
On 18 June, AKF hosted a panel discussion at the European Development Days in Brussels.
The theme for 2019 was Addressing Inequalities: building a world which leaves no one behind.
AKF’s panel discussion was centred around the findings of a new report by Chatham House, Reconnecting Afghanistan: Lessons in Cross-Border Engagement. This panel brought to light the impact of a variety of projects along and across the Afghan borders that aim to reduce inequalities and unlock the enormous potential of the region. The speakers:
- Explored examples of ‘local’ cross-border interventions, their implication on the economy, livelihood opportunities and job creation.
- Raised the profile of trade, energy and connectivity as effective tools of development, applicable to other contexts.
- Demonstrated that engagement with Afghanistan can bring positive economic benefits.
The STAGES (Steps Towards Afghan Girls’ Education Success) II programme is funded by DFID through its GEC grant scheme. It is being implemented by a consortium of partners, led by the Aga Khan Foundation.
21 August 2019
A man educates a person, while a woman educates a family”
After decades of war in Afghanistan, access to education remains a challenge and the illiteracy rate is very high, particularly among women in rural areas. Mothers during a focus group discussion in Kabul city acknowledge the issue:
Most people believe that girls who are 14 years or older should not go to school and some people arrange their marriage. The mindsets have not changed much.
Research shows that fifty percent of girls drop out of school after grade 6 when they reach puberty and have to demonstrate their ability to adhere to social norms. They are at an age where families consider potential suitors and they also take on the responsibility of the “family name”, outweighing the value of education.
Tabasum, a 17-year old lower secondary student in a Community Based Education class (CBE) in Faryab province has five sisters who were never allowed to go to secondary school after completing their primary education. Their father had decided they should get married before turning eighteen. The same fate awaited her. She recalled:
I was so frustrated and lost hope when my family discussed my marriage. I told my family that I did not want to get married at a young age and expressed my wish to complete secondary school because I dreamt of becoming a teacher. However, they went ahead with arranging my marriage.
Aside from the threat of early marriage, adolescent girls often miss class because they are expected to help their mother with household chores as they get older. Rokhsar, a grade 7 CBE student in Khost province was absent very regularly. Her mother, herself illiterate, thought that household chores were more important than her education, stating:
What use is her education? My in-laws get angry when household chores are not performed on time and they want me to involve Rokhsar as well, since learning household chores can help her in future when she starts married life. She is the cause of family arguments and disputes.
“I told my family that I did not want to get married at a young age and expressed my wish to complete secondary school because I dreamt of becoming a teacher.”
STAGES II works with mullahs, school management committee members (SMC) and teachers to slowly change attitudes and gain community support for girls’ right to secondary education. SMC members and the local community play a fundamental role in encouraging parents to allow girls to attend school and they receive training from STAGES on conflict resolution and follow-up on absenteeism or drop out.
Female SMC members and teachers play a critical role in talking to mothers about the importance of their daughters’ education. In Rokhsar’s case, SMC members went to visit her mother and tried to find a solution to her problem. Together, they made a list of household chores, set a schedule for each task and distributed a few chores to Rokhsar after class. They requested her family to arrange their chores without arguing and convinced her mother to support Rokhsar and be patient with her so that she could continue her education. Some mothers during a focus group discussion in Baghlan province, said:
Our daughters are learning in school, we take over the household chores to let them go to their lessons.
STAGES’ midline survey showed that there was a 20 percent decrease in the number of men prioritising marriage over school since the beginning of the project, revealing a shift in attitudes around educated women and their value within the household. Parents are increasingly waiting to marry their daughters until they’ve finished their education, and as such, marriage is seen as less common a reason for dropping out of school among ALP/LSCBE students. A mullah in Khinjan district of Baghlan province, commented:
Girls here mostly get married early but I recommend for families to either delay the marriage time or allow girls to continue their lessons after marriage.
Religious leaders and shura members appear to be more comfortable discussing and promoting the delay of early marriage in the community. However, while 94 percent of SMC members report that they are able to communicate with parents about general issues regarding early marriage, when it comes to a specific situation, ultimately the decision is out of their hands. They often highlight the fact that they can simply advise families to delay marriage, but the economic situation of families is generally more influential. During a focus group discussion in Badakshan province, one girl confirmed:
When girls get married, there are other family problems they have to deal with, so they are not able to continue their schooling.
“Education will enable me to have a voice and participate in decision-making process within my family as well as in my future.”
The FMIC treats 60,000 patients each year from all 34 provinces in Afghanistan. The hospital is run by AKU in partnership with the Government of France, the French NGO La Chaine de L'Espoir, the Government of Afghanistan and the AKDN.
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