10th Jan 2020
“It is education and knowledge that enhance innovation and inventors in the world.” – Rahela Sidiqi, Director of the Farkhunda Trust.
Afghanistan has the legal framework to protect women’s rights through its Constitution, labour laws, civil laws. Civil Servant Law and Elimination of Violence Against Women have been signed and ratified and are underpinned by CEDAW and UN Security Council Resolution 1325.
But there are challenges and barriers that block women from progress.
In addition, political leadership positions are given to women and they are doing their best to do the job effectively. For example, we have 27% female MPs in the lower house and 21% in the upper house, 240 judges, 2 ministers, 3 independent chairs, 12 deputy ministers, 3 ambassadors and many diplomats. There are 3,126 women in the police, 1,179 in the Army, 3,755 doctors, 85,177 female civil servants and 800 businesswomen; $77m, through 1,700 private sector areas, is invested for women’s economic empowerment. Afghanistan’s first lady Rula Ghani is proactive in the manner of queen Soraya Tarzi, therefore connecting the women rights activists is more closely to the palace then ever before.
According to Human Rights Watch (HRW) Afghanistan is still one of the worst places for women to live and honour killing is still common practice. Just last week, it became known that a woman in Faryab had been beaten continually by her husband and father-in-law, for five years. This took place because she was exchanged with her brother’s wife at an early age, under the badal system. She is just 17 years old and her body is marked with burns from boiling water and knife cuts.
87% of Afghan women face violence.
– 70-80% of Afghan women marry before the age of 16.
– 80% of all Afghan suicides are women.
Most unemployment issues in Afghanistan are related to lack of education, knowledge and skills. 80% of the group who are suffering are women. In rural areas, stoning, abuse and beating inside the home is still common. In the workplace, harassment of women is not adequately addressed.
There is a huge need for female doctors. For example, there is just one (female) physician per 5,000 women.
Not all stories are so dramatic, but there are many other disturbing issues For example, there are concerns regarding women and music! An activist, Saleema Bayani from Kapisa, said that several women who were involved in music have been forced to leave their homes. They are not able to go back, even as guests. One women was told that ‘a gun was waiting’ for her if she returned – so she will never be able to go home. A few of these women have been killed.
Mr Masoud Sanger, Director of Mobi Networks in Afghanistan said, female Afghan Stars fall into one of three categories. The first includes those who are still singers, of whom there are just three or four, such as Elaha Sahar, Sahar Aryan and Ziba Amiri. Shaqayeq is still active but cannot afford to travel regularly from Iran.
The second category includes those who simply left Afghanistan and did not continue
The third category includes those either give up due to social pressure and malicious rumours, such as this season’s female rapper. Some who came from extremely conservative places were unable to take the pressure and simply made themselves disappear.
Working in TV and media is a major challenge for women. They are rarely accepted and out of seven districts, only three district use media but there is no women.
Dr Saleema said being an actress or singer is considered a shameful job for their family and so they left their homes. Saleema mentioned, “I know many women who are crying to see their birthplace but they can’t.”
Most private universities do not have music faculties, or offer it as a subject, because there are few job opportunities for women in music due to cultural barriers and insecurity.
Khadija Yawari, who is a Farkhunda Trust co-ordinator, said, “My mother had three daughters and my uncle had nine sons. He wanted to get our heritage and therefore he always said, ‘Khadija should not go to school’.
My father followed my uncle as he was the younger brother. I was the first graduate student in my class. Although my uncle several times said to the school’s headmaster that ‘Khadija should not be allowed to go to school’ I was a talented student. At first the headmaster did not tell me, but finally he did. I said to the headmaster that my father and my uncle did not want me to continue, but that I did. I faced many difficulties but I did continue my education.
“When my father died, I was in last year of university. At that time, I told my uncle that he was not my father or responsible for me legally. I took my mother and my two sister to Kabul and found a job paying $100. We have survived and, with hard work, my salary went up to $220 and now it is $500. I left Ghazni, my original province, to make progress and now I am a lecturer at Gawharshad University and a volunteer national coordinator at the Farkhunda Trust. It was my higher education and my talent that brought me here and all my uncle’s children and our village follow my path”.
Khadija said “It is higher education that givse women power to access labour markets and become self-sufficient. Families are mainly keen for their daughters to study law, medicine, teaching and finance. Being a medical doctor is acceptable in our society.”
Dr Salima said “For me, it was my higher education as a medical doctor that enabled me to provide other kinds of social support to women and men in my society. No matter if I was working from home or in the office, I was able to support my society. Several community members highlighted that if women were in music in higher education, they could help women who have psychological problems. They could provide entertainment, among themselves, which would be helpful because many suffer from depression due to the situation in Afghanistan situation and their difficult lives. Others said if women had access to higher education in media, they could become advocates to raise awareness and reach out to like-minded people in our society. Sadly, because of un-necessary ‘traditions’, women who make a career of music are given a hard time.”
Shakeela Samar, a third-yearcomputer science student at Gawharshad University said, “Higher education gives more strength to women. All subjects are as good for women in higher education as for men. Music and art are equally good for women as they can earn through art. The majority of women in rural Afghanistan earn some income through handicraft or embroidery. If they learn music, they can also earn money. Although studying medicine is not as easy for women in our society it leads to even more job opportunities and there is a lot of need, especially in rural areas.”
Sahiba Alizada said, “Music has great impact on women. It can change their lives. In past centuries women were not allowed to be musicians and even now some families do not like their daughter to study music. I hope a day comes when the Afghan government officially makes it acceptable for all women to be involved in music, cinema and drama. That will make a big difference in our society and have a very positive influence on women’s lives. There are opportunities for women in computer studies, medicine, teaching and nursing.”
Aziza Alizada said“Higher education for girls leads to more opportunities. There is a great need for women to study medicine as more female doctors are needed and also teachers. Music is another valuable subject because through this subject women can gain peace of mind and happiness. More recently, women who have studied music have been able to help their families though earning an income.”
Zainab Naimi, a Farkhunda Trust student said, “Higher education in general has a most important impact on women’s lives life. Music helps human beings to express themselves; it makes their environment more pleasurable and has a calming effect on the mind. Other job opportunities that women will be enabled to pursue in through higher education can be found through studying medicine, graphic design, computer science, finance pedagogy, literature and foreign languages.”
Ms Rezai said, “Music is the best subject for women. Through its expression they can bring peace of mind to the body and spirit. Through knowledge of music women can also foster strength and confidence in their society and even better than our male society. Higher education will increase their knowledge and develop them to point where they can become the inventors of the future.”
In higher education, there are 2,700 lecturers. There are and 101,150 female university students and 66,067 female teachers.
But let’s remember that before the Taliban time, in the 1980s and 1990s, 40% of school and university students were female and 70% of lecturers and schoolteachers were female.
1,000 female students have benefited from transport services in Herat, Jawzjan, Kabul, Kuna and Kunduz. For example, Humaira Saadat, a fifth-year medical student at Kabul Medical University, identifies safe transportation as something crucial to the success of she and her classmates. However, there are big gaps to fill in the road towards higher education. One of the two main reasons that Afghanistan is still considered as the least developed country is its low levels of education. Women represent the largest portion of the uneducated population. Statistics published in 2016 showed that millions of girls who graduated from school found it impossible to access higher education. Today poverty has doubled and insecurity has increased.
Obstacles to women to receiving higher education include distance and insecurity, lack of access to transport, cultural issues, limited education facilities inside the universities, sanitation and harassment.
These challenges, plus negative attitudes and lack of social acceptance to allow girls to study in other provinces, are common.
It is obvious that the main indicators of a developed society are based on the numbers of highly educated members of the population and their worldwide intellectual contribution. Afghanistan has a long way to go!
Only 34% of its population is literate – 72% of its women are illiterate and 55% of the Afghan population in general earns less than $1 a day. Building a more progressive Afghanistan needs knowledge and therefore investment in higher education is critical, particularity for women – the ‘wounded wing’ of society who are continually suffering!
In addition to access to education, we have found that mentoring of women in higher education has a had a very positive impact. Mentoring, coaching and morale building, along with academic support, networking and skills building has enabled women to enter the labour market with greater confidence and success.
But when supporting women in higher education – and indeed in general – it is important to fully understand the issues facing Afghan women and girls locally, nationally and internationally.
Awareness raising and advocacy about the inequality and violence that Afghan women face must be greatly increased and considered in relation to all projects. Resources, and facilities to ease their path through education, can make a significant difference to women.
Investment in higher education must become a key priority for donors who want to support any aspect of women’s empowerment. Private sector support is vital, especially in the form of scholarships for women trying to access higher education in Afghanistan.
Through scholarships, and mentoring within their own provinces, the number of girls going to local universities will increase. We know that girls in urban areas who have had access to higher education have a better chance or entering the labour market, and are more careful about how they vote, marry and see their role in society.
The impact of higher education on Farkhunda Trust graduates is a good illustration of how this investment pays off. These girls have used their skills to find jobs and operate confidently in the work environment. They are keen to build on their achievements and proceed to take Masters degrees. They feel more responsibility toward their communities.
We want to train Farkhunda Trust scholars to become agents of change and future leaders of their society. Not only to help themselves, but to become role models and mentors for other girls. Some have already helped other women to enter the work environment – and they credit the mentoring program that helped them, for their success.
The Farkhunda Trust uses mentoring and coaching to train its scholars as peer mentors – not just in academic subjects, but also through development of presentation skills and help in navigating the many difficulties that can accompany university life.
WHAT THE FARKHUNDA TRUST HAS ACHIEVED
The Farkhunda Trust provides higher education scholarships to talented and disadvantaged girls in Afghanistan – those girls who lack access to schooling, either due to lack of financial resources or other forms of support. So far it has provided 19 scholarships through 3 university partners, supported 5 scholars in Kandahar, one in Ghazi and 15 others from Kabul, Wardak, Kapisa, Ghour, Bamyan and Herat who are studying in Kabul.
Out of 19 scholars, two graduated last year and one 3 months before. Two graduates got jobs in government.
We are proud to say that all of our scholars are achieving distinction marks, between 70 and 100 percent.
In addition to their academic successes our students are supporting their communities and providing peer mentoring and coaching to other students – either in their own classes or at lower grades. The process of mentoring comes directly from Farkhunda Trust members and is reinforced by peer support. Together these inputs build confidence, boost morale, encourage academic excellence and facilitate the building of networks.
Four of our scholars married, with agreement from their husbands that they would support them during their studies. All are either sustaining their grades or seeing improvement. In each case, as a direct result of coaching, mentoring and higher education, each student felt able to clearly explain their ambitions to their fiancés, before agreeing to marry. Only when their conditions were accepted did the students accept their proposals. This situation was further supported by the fact that the girls’ parents had signed commitment letters for their daughters before their Farkhunda Trust Scholarships were awarded.
“If we all want a progressive society in Afghanistan, we have to support education and particular education for mothers and daughters in Afghanistan!” Rahela Sidiqi, 10th January 2020
 Women right activists communication group
 Rahela Sidiqi telephone conversation with Masoud Sanger Director of Mobi Networks Afghanistan
 Rahela Sidiqi Personal Communication with Nooria Safi. Director of wcbdo
 Writer personal communication with Khadija Yawari, lecturer, Gawharshad Inistitud of Higher Education
 2016 report, center for statistic Office Afghanistan