Afghanistan: Community-based education for girls
There are many barriers preventing girls in Afghanistan from getting an education – but CARE’s long history of working in the country, stretching back to 1961, has enabled us to develop long-term, community-based programmes which reach remote areas and help to overcome those barriers.
Some villages in rural areas in Afghanistan are so remote that the people living there have never had access to education. There is often no formal government school nearby. Young children, both boys and girls, cannot walk the long distances required to reach these schools.
CARE specifically targets scattered communities where there is no formal government school or where the school is further than 3km from the community. We establish our ‘community-based education’ classes right in the heart of the communities so children don’t have to walk long distances.
Parents of girls are particularly reluctant to let their daughters travel far to reach the government schools, meaning the girls have no education at all. Having our classes in the centre of the communities means parents are more comfortable sending their daughters to school.
Parents also often object to their daughters being taught by male teachers. However, there is a severe shortage of female teachers in these more remote areas. An additional complication is that some communities oppose the idea of female teachers or women being involved in school management committees (Shuras).
We know it is essential to have women involved in schools, both as teachers and decision-makers. We do not tell the community to hire only female teachers but, over time, we gradually increase the level of female inclusion whilst highlighting the fact that more girls will be able to go to school if we hire more female teachers. We have seen how parents soon accept the need for female teachers and the importance of the girls confiding in them and sharing their concerns.
The hiring and training of female teachers addresses so many of the barriers to girls’ education and concerns of the parents and communities as a whole. This is a huge shift in attitudes and something we have achieved over a substantial period of time. Of course these are conservative areas and they can be reluctant to change. What is crucial to the success of the projects is familiarity with the context we are working: we build a partnership with the community, we establish our classes, and sooner or later we see women take up positions as both managers and teachers.
Support from local and religious leaders
The remote areas we work in are some of the most conservative in Afghanistan where men are the decision-makers and it is generally accepted that the woman’s role is purely to take care of household duties and get married. Traditional entrenched norms and beliefs about women and an overriding concern over reputation often prevents communities from consenting to allow girls access to education.
Working directly with communities and understanding the context they live in is at the core of all our work. All our activities take into account local and religious norms and cultures, as well as the specific needs of each community.
Any time we start work in a new area, we first approach the religious leaders because of their level of influence within the community. We only ever enter a community once we have support from the Ministry of Education and provincial authorities, so we are already known before we arrive. Our priority is first to talk about the value of education and gender equality from an Islamic point of view and then discuss any concerns or objections the leaders raise, as well as how CARE can address them.
We make sure that the religious leaders and, consequently, the entire community, are involved in the successful running of the classes. The shuras comprise community elders, teachers, parents and religious leaders and all work towards providing quality education to girls. They do this in multiple ways:
- Female members of shuras engage mothers to get their support to reduce the work-load and household responsibilities of the girls, so they have more time for study.
- They are involved in identifying and enlisting suitable teachers (so they are known and trusted by the community).
- They are responsible for monitoring teacher performance and student enrolment.
- The community will often donate the land used to build the classroom and collectively pay for its construction.
The contribution of land and costs towards constructing the classroom can be incredibly expensive and illustrates the strong support our initiatives receive from the community. All of this work requires long-term commitment from everyone involved – from the international donors to the villages in which we work.
However, to make our achievements sustainable we need to encourage communities as well as the education ministry to take ownership of and responsibility for providing girls’ education. To do this we are helping the ministry to strengthen its capacity and increase its reach to rural areas. We involve the both ministry and communities at all levels of the project – from planning, to implementing, to monitoring – to ensure the transfer of responsibility is as smooth as possible.
Advocates for education
Our goal is to empower communities to take responsibility for education, so that they become strong advocates of their children’s learning. We have already seen an incredibly positive change in attitudes towards girls’ education across the country. It is essential these changes and successes are cemented in society and reflected by the long-term commitment of donors.
I have been working with CARE for 10 years in different positions in the education programme and, currently, as programme coordinator. My hope is to see that quality education is accessible for all girls in Afghanistan because if you educate a man, you educate an individual. But if you educate a girl, you educate an entire family.
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