Afghanistan: Gains in girls’ education are at risk unless urgent action is taken, aid groups warn

Published: 24th February 2011

NGOs call on governments not to abandon girls as they prepare to withdraw troops

Progress in girls’ education, one of the rare Afghan success stories of the last nine years and vital to the long-term development and stability of the country, is under threat, 16 aid agencies including Oxfam and CARE warned today in a new report.

The report "High Stakes: Girls’ Education in Afghanistan" found that gains in girls’ education are slipping away as a result of poverty, growing insecurity, a lack of trained teachers, neglect of post-primary education and poorly equipped schools. The findings are based on a survey of more than 1,600 girls, parents and teachers in 17 of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces.

There are now 2.4 million Afghan girls enrolled in school, compared to just 5,000 in 2001 – a 480-fold increase. While the numbers are encouraging, Afghan girls still face many barriers to receiving an education. The quality of education is highly variable, school conditions are often poor and nearly half a million girls who are enrolled do not regularly attend school. The agencies are calling for renewed efforts by the Afghan government and donors to keep girls in school and improve the quality of the education they receive.  

“Afghan girls are hungry for an education: nearly two thirds of girls we spoke to said they want to complete university. But the reality is the education system is facing its greatest challenge since 2001. We’re seeing a rollback of some of the recent gains made in getting young, motivated Afghan girls into school. This is an appalling waste of talent and potential,” said Neeti Bhargava, Oxfam’s country programme manager in Afghanistan.

Those interviewed said poverty was the single biggest obstacle to girls’ education and the main factor in causing girls to drop out of school. This was followed closely by early or forced marriage and insecurity. More than 40 per cent of interviewees said girls had to leave school to help support their families or because their families were too poor to pay for necessities such as transport or uniforms.

Those who do remain in school are receiving a poor education because of a lack of trained female teachers, of female-only schools and basic materials. Just 30 per cent of teachers are female and the vast majority work in and around urban areas, with more than a third based in the capital Kabul. In contrast, in the highly insecure Khost province, on the border with Pakistan, just 3 per cent of teachers are female. In neighbouring Paktika, this drops to just 1 per cent.

More than 40 per cent of girls interviewed said their school didn’t have a building resulting in children being taught in the open air or in temporary structures. The report found girls in rural areas are the worst off – just under 10 per cent of girls in Balkh province attended a school with a building while three quarters of those living in Kabul did. Some reported travelling more than three hours each way to the closest school.  

The aid agencies warn that the intensifying conflict, which is spreading into previously secure areas in the center, north and west of the country, is increasingly preventing girls from going to school. More than a third of those interviewed saw insecurity as a major obstacle. Schools, especially girls’ schools, have been targeted leading many parents to keep their daughters at home out of fear for their safety.  

The report also notes that instead of renewing efforts to promote girls’ education and other long-term development, many major donors are increasingly focused on stabilisation and counter-insurgency. And with many NATO troop-contributing nations focused on handover of security responsibilities to the Afghan government and withdrawal of troops by 2014, the agencies say they are deeply concerned about the prospect of a drop in aid assistance for Afghanistan after international forces leave.

 “We must ensure Afghan girls face a blackboard instead of a bleak future. By putting more female teachers in classrooms and supplying more female only schools, we can keep these girls in school. It’s crucial that donor governments sustain their support for development, especially education, even once their troops leave the country. Investing in education is vital for the future of Afghanistan. An educated woman is better able to stand up for her interests, raise a healthier family and contribute to the economy,” said Abdul Waheed Hamidy of Co-ordination for Humanitarian Assistance, an Afghan NGO which took part in the research.

Read more

> Download the report: High Stakes: Girls’ Education in Afghanistan

> Oxfam’s response to the crisis in Afghanistan

We must ensure Afghan girls face a blackboard instead of a bleak future.
Abdul Waheed Hamidy
Co-ordination for Humanitarian Assistance

Notes to editors

  • The research was led by Oxfam and jointly designed and carried out with 13 Afghan NGOs:
    Afghan Civil Society Forum (ACSF)
    Afghan Development Association (ADA)
    Afghan Peace and Democracy Act (APDA)
    Afghan Women’s Network (AWN)
    Afghan Women Services and Education Organization (AWSE)
    All Afghan Women’s Union (AAWU)
    Cooperation Center for Afghanistan (CCA)
    Coordination of Afghan Relief (CoAR)
    Coordination of Humanitarian Assistance (CHA)
    Education Training Center for Poor Women and Girls of Afghanistan (ECW)
    Legal and Cultural Services for Afghan Women and Children (LCSAWC)
    Sanayee Development Organization (SDO)
    Swedish Committee for Afghanistan (SCA).
  • A total of 630 parents, 332 teachers, 687 girls and 105 community members were interviewed between May - July 2010 in 17 provinces: Badakhshan, Badghis, Balkh, Bamiyan, Daikundi, Ghazni, Herat, Kabul, Kandahar, Khost, Kunar, Kunduz, Nangarhar, Pansjir, Parwan, Samangan and Takhar.
  • Girls in secondary and higher level education face the greatest challenges. While 1.9 million Afghan girls are enrolled in primary school, this drops to just over 400,000 girls in secondary school and just over 120,000 in high school: at age 18, just 18 per cent of girls are still in school compared to 42 per cent for boys.
  • Afghanistan suffers from one of the highest infant mortality rates in the world, yet studies estimate that infant mortality drops by 5 to 10 per cent for every extra year that girls stay in school. A recent World Bank study of 100 countries found that increasing the share of women with secondary education by 1 per cent increases per capital income growth by an average of 0.3 per cent.

Contact information

For more information, please contact:

In Afganistan: Louise Hancock, +93 (0) 700 294 364,