Oxford platform for girls education advocate


Farkhunda Trust founder Rahela Sadiqi joined a panel of speakers in Oxford on November 20th to discuss the impact of aid on development in Afghanistan – and the vital importance of education for girls.

At the invitation of the Oxford International Relations Society she joined Dr Michael Ryde and journalist Bahar Joya in a discussion chaired by Professor Sue Doran.

After the main event the audience of students and supporters at St Benet’s Hall, St Giles had an opportunity to meet Ms Sidiqi and learn more about the life changing impact of the Farkhunda Trust which was set up in memory of Farkhunda Malikzada, whose brutal murder on the streets of Kabul in 2015 shocked the world. Its mission is to provide scholarships to women from disadvantaged backgrounds to enable them to pursue higher education and, ultimately, to contribute to shaping a progressive Afghan society.

PICTURE SHOWS: Rahela Sidiqi and Oxford  student Malala Yousafzai.

Extracts from Rahela Sidiqi’s speech follows:  “I believe that if we do things better, and especially pay closer attention to the culture of change towards development – that is the institutional and behaviour  incentives towards change – and alignment with Afghan Government priorities, we will set ourselves on a path towards a self-sufficient Afghanistan that will be a net contributor to peace and security.

Let me explain. Any country that has experienced the levels of destruction and conflict that Afghanistan has needs support. But this support must be defined together with the international community and must be based on the priorities and deep engagement of Afghans themselves.

For far too long, the nature of development has been donor-driven with Afghans in the backseat.

Moreover, the scores of technical assistants provided to the government – while good intentioned – has often leeched capacity rather than built Afghan capacity. I believe that these two factors are key to why we have seen such a weak impact on Afghanistan development strategy despite all the money provided.

Let me give you some figures. For instance, there has been little on-budget aid investment in education, institutional building, and infrastructure development. For example, in 2013, 82% of international aid was used outside Afghanistan system and 70% of aid was used for security force in 2011. While it is important to strengthen security forces, it is not sufficient. Peace and security will come with tangible improvement in people’s lives. And that will not happen if we spend 18% (Social Protection1%, Education 2%, Private sector 2% Health 4%, Agriculture 5%) for the rest of sectors. Today, however, we have a real opportunity to change things and set the course right.”

She reminded the audience that Afghanistan had a Government in place and – in spite of all its challenges –  a reform vision to bring self-sufficiency to the country by 2025.

“Let me quickly state its main five objectives:

  • FIRST, to increase Government ownership in the development, coordination and administration of aid.
  • SECOND, to strengthen economic management through increased development assistant via on budget aid.
  • THIRD, to better coordinate off budget flow from international donors and partners
  • FOURTH, to operationalise the commitment to aid effectiveness within the Tokyo Framework through a process of mutual accountability.
  • FIFTH to increase transparency and accountability with the Afghan Government and development partners.

Reform will take a long time to take root and may spark violence in the interim as vested interests are threatened, but we have another opportunity here that we can leverage. This second opportunity is the new generation of Afghan leaders, who are more educated and connected with more global outlooks than the previous generation who monopolise power.

In this new government,  several hundred young people under the age of 40 have been appointed to positions of power. And many of them are also young women working in the Office of the Presidency and across ministries.   I cannot overstate the importance of this new generation. These young people in government are dynamic, creative, more open to taking risks and trying new ideas, and ready to challenge the corrupt structures that be. But they need our support and commitment.

The third is how the most successful, programs – that have been internationally acclaimed – were the family of National Programs designed and implemented by the Government, with clear rules and responsibilities with funding from development partners, where the Government sets policy, and where NGOs or private sector provides service delivery within clear and fair parameters. These include the National Health Program which resulted from a collaboration between WB, USAID, EU on one clear framework; and the National Solidarity Program now Citizens Charter which I had the privilege to serve on as one of the core founder — which gave block grants to 34,000 villages and where communities themselves managed the grants. The next phase of this program under Citizen Charter is to integrate the village level to ensure the villages can demand and hold accountable the government ministries to provide them basic services.

Critical to increasing young women’s participation in government and  across all sectors of society is the role of higher education. Today, only 25% women succeed to enter to state university but the demand is at least four times more.

What are their challenges in access? Often, it is about accommodation, transport, food, – all of which keeps most young poor women out of schools and often marrying way too young. Many also have to support their families and thus do not have the time or energy to attend school.

We believe that a central reason that Afghanistan is one of the least developed countries is because of the marginalization of half the population – an entire gender. They are critical to development, to building the economy, strengthening their communities and keeping young marginalized boys from bad influences.

Today, we have a new opportunity. A national priority of the National Unity Government is empowering woman to their full potential. For the first time, we have an active first lady who is supporting young women.

And we at Farkhunda Trust are trying our best to do our part. We are a very young organisation and have only been in operation for 1.5 years. We were established   after the brutal killing of Farkhunda Malikzada. But we already have established MoUs with two  universities and are supporting 13 excellent young women from disadvantaged background; women who   without the support of our Trust, would not be able to attend university.

We believe women can be mothers  who  train their  children to use their vision for building Afghanistan and his nation rather hen join extremism. They could be the agent of change to bring moderate Islam and to value the women potential as their equal partner of development process.”

Rahela H. Sidiqi is the founder and UK Director of the Farkhunda Trust and is an Afghan women’s rights activist who was determined to improve the situation of women in Afghanistan following the tragic death of Farkhunda Malikzada.

Rahela has over 22 years of experience in managing programs such as emergency relief, conducting and organising management training, provision of policy papers, strategic plans and manuals for relevant project programs for government, the UN and the World Bank. She has founded two charities in Afghanistan and the UK and has provided leadership advice to the Chairman of the Civil Service Commission and other senior level leaders in Afghanistan. She is a reformist and anti-corruption activist at government and civil society levels. She has extensive experience in the area of organisation development participatory training, planning and management, project formulation, and monitoring and evaluation. She has strong experience in team building. She has an extensive background in the area of human rights, women’s rights advocacy, women and youth solidarity and coalition building. She works to build capacity in building partnerships in relation to relevant stakeholders. She works with the private sector, government, and local and international organisations.