October 2015 - Afghanistan

Our Thoughts on Protecting Young Afghan Women

In 2007, many Afghan refugees who had fled to Pakistan, the majority since 2001, and some from prior waves of migration related to the Taliban rule, and earlier, the Soviet invasion, began to return as a consequence of repatriation programmes. However, once back in Afghanistan, many young returnees found themselves excluded from the educational system as they had missed many years of schooling.

Through numerous needs assessment missions, discussions with the Afghan federal, provincial, and municipal authorities, and finally at the request of the Ministry of Education, RET was able to clearly identify that young women were particularly affected from this gap in education due to forced early marriages, having children at a young age, as well as being in flight and exile through the years in neighbouring Pakistan and other countries.

There were however additional impediments to the education of these young women. For example, in Afghanistan only female teachers may teach women and girls. The problem resides in the fact that there are many more male teachers accredited and available to teach than female teachers, as historically and socially, boys’ education has always been considered more valuable. This has resulted in a chronic shortage of classes for females. Given the shortage the priority goes to girls of primary school age and not to young women who had missed out on primary education.

To deepen the problem, classes cannot be mixed in terms of age groups and life situations (married vs. non-married virgin girls) and as there was not enough space for all the females at the primary schools, many young women missed years in school. As displaced young women could not complete primary education upon return they had no hope of accessing secondary education.

For these and many more socio-cultural and economic reasons, young women fell between the cracks of the system.

Young women returnees therefore had no other choice but to stay at home incapable of providing for themselves or their families, making them even more vulnerable to violence and insecurity, and dependent on family males and the community.

womens-centers

Having worked with this population for many years in Pakistan, RET was well-placed to identify this significant gap and its consequences. We were also close enough to find collaborative solutions, working closely with community leaders, municipal and provincial governments, the Shura, the imams, and ensuring full endorsement of the communities. Our main strategy formed around the creation of Women’s Learning Centres throughout Afghanistan, which provide a variety of educational programmes for young returnees. The programmes within the Centres were designed to build self-reliance amongst young women by way of small business trainings, life skills trainings, as well as literacy and numeracy catch-up courses. This range of offerings – remedial courses, capacity building through life skills education, trainings on employability and self-reliance skills, basic health, hygiene, family care, a kindergarten for the children of the women attending the RET Learning Centre, opened numerous possibilities for all to consider and attend.

Most recently, in Kapisa Province, where RET opened its 13th such Learning Centre, we have, once again, seen the direct impact of the trainings on women’s self-esteem, social status, and financial self-reliance. Ultimately, they were empowered to undertake independent jobs outside the boundaries of the household or reintegrate the formal Afghan education system.

A great example to illustrate this is Ms. Zarlasht, a young mother of two children. Before enrolling in the Centre she lived with her father-in-law as she did not work and could not provide for her children on her own. She has now be-come literate, while our trainings on small business creation gave her the skills to start a homemade food products and handcraft business. This in-come generation activity has allowed her to provide for her family and no longer be in this vulnerable situation of dependency.

In addition to successfully starting their own businesses, data shows that about 70% of those who have gone through the trainings have attained jobs at the government level, and are currently working for the National Police, in the Department of Women’s Affairs and other governmental offices.

Reflecting on the last dozen years of working in working with young Afghan women, first in Pakistan and then, in Afghanistan, RET has grown convinced that creating Women’s Learning Centres is one of the truly most effective ways forward. It however has to be done in collaboration with the local communities and Afghan authorities, and the Centres have to be equipped to provide not only catch-up courses, but also life skills as well as professional and entrepreneurial training.

This leads to socio-economic benefits not only for the individuals, but also for their families and the community as a whole. The more young women are educated and empowered, the more stable the communities become.

Having worked with this population for many years in Pakistan, RET was well-placed to identify this significant gap and its consequences. We were also close enough to find collaborative solutions, working closely with community leaders, municipal and provincial governments, the Shura, the imams, and ensuring full endorsement of the communities. Our main strategy formed around the creation of Women’s Learning Centres throughout Afghanistan, which provide a variety of educational programmes for young returnees. The programmes within the Centres were designed to build self-reliance amongst young women by way of small business trainings, life skills trainings, as well as literacy and numeracy catch-up courses. This range of offerings – remedial courses, capacity building through life skills education, trainings on employability and self-reliance skills, basic health, hygiene, family care, a kindergarten for the children of the women attending the RET Learning Centre, opened numerous possibilities for all to consider and attend.

Most recently, in Kapisa Province, where RET opened its 13th such Learning Centre, we have, once again, seen the direct impact of the trainings on women’s self-esteem, social status, and financial self-reliance. Ultimately, they were empowered to undertake independent jobs outside the boundaries of the household or reintegrate the formal Afghan education system.

A great example to illustrate this is Ms. Zarlasht, a young mother of two children. Before enrolling in the Centre she lived with her father-in-law as she did not work and could not provide for her children on her own. She has now be-come literate, while our trainings on small business creation gave her the skills to start a homemade food products and handcraft business. This in-come generation activity has allowed her to provide for her family and no longer be in this vulnerable situation of dependency.

In addition to successfully starting their own businesses, data shows that about 70% of those who have gone through the trainings have attained jobs at the government level, and are currently working for the National Police, in the Department of Women’s Affairs and other governmental offices.

Reflecting on the last dozen years of working in working with young Afghan women, first in Pakistan and then, in Afghanistan, RET has grown convinced that creating Women’s Learning Centres is one of the truly most effective ways forward. It however has to be done in collaboration with the local communities and Afghan authorities, and the Centres have to be equipped to provide not only catch-up courses, but also life skills as well as professional and entrepreneurial training.

This leads to socio-economic benefits not only for the individuals, but also for their families and the community as a whole. The more young women are educated and empowered, the more stable the communities become.

Updated, October 29th, 2015