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Only 12 percent of Afghan women can read and write

Girl's education has never been a top priority in Afghanistan and is still not high on the agenda. But women's rights activists argue it is extremely important if democracy is ever to flourish in the war-torn country.

Afghan school girls read their lessons at the Aziz Afghan Secondary School in Kabul, Afghanistan, Tuesday, May 23, 2006. Even though there is a big improvement in the Afghan educational system, since fall of the Taliban regime late in 2001, the rehabilitation of education in Afghanistan is a massive task and challenge, both for Afghans and the international community. Still most of the schools need proper installations, after more than a quarter- century of war and occupations in Afghanistan. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)

Girls often do not get beyond primary education

According to Afghanistan's Ministry of Education, only 12 percent of women aged over 15 can read and write, compared to 43 percent of men in the same category. But some women are taking matters into their own hands and going to school as they want to set an example to their children.

"If women in the family can read and write then children can learn from them," explains one young mother from a remote village in Daykundi province in central Afghanistan. "They think, ‘Well, if my mother can do it, then it’s something good and I also want to do it’."

Until now, the 20-year-old had never gone to school and had only worked in the house and in the fields. She was married off at a young age according to tradition and now already has three children.

Her teacher is from Kabul over 300 kilometers away. Although it takes her two days to get to the village by car because the roads are so poor, the young teacher is determined to carry out her work.

"My classes are changing the lives of women," she says, adding that some of the women's husbands used to hit them and prevent them from leaving the house. "Now they let them come because they are leaning something useful."

A small girl takes lessons at the Nangalam High School in Afghanistan

Under the Taliban, girl's education was completely banned and it is still not a high priority

Conditions need to be improved for boys and girls

Women's education has never really been a priority in Afghan society. Under the Taliban, it was even completely banned.

There has been some improvement since the brutal regime was overthrown. According to official statistics, some 2.5 million girls now go to school but most of them don't get further than primary education. Another problem is that in 75 percent of Afghan districts there is no further education establishment for women.

Moreover, it is not just girls who are currently suffering from Afghanistan's wanting education policy, boys are also affected. A typical class takes place on the floor in overcrowded rooms. Often, children go to school for not more than four hours a day and it is common for classes to be completely cancelled in areas where there is heavy fighting.

Most Afghan teachers are poorly trained and poorly paid. Moreover, an increasing number of teachers are choosing other jobs.

Some 70 percent of teachers who graduated in 2009 from the University of Kabul now work for foreign aid organizations – as office staff, translators or drivers. They can make a better living this way.

Women's participation is key indicator for democracy

There have been other improvements for Afghans since the fall of the Taliban Kabul is booming with new roads, power cables, schools and universities. The country has a new constitution and elected representatives.

However, one crucial thing is missing, says Sima Samar, the head of the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission: "Women’s participation, and without it democracy is simply impossible."

Afghan youth arrive to the Ghazi High School in Kabul, Afghanistan

Most schools in Afghanistan are makeshift

The new constitution does in theory guarantee equal rights and the right to education for women. But the reality is different, especially in rural areas, where the patriarchal tribal society and longstanding cultural and religious tradition means that women are usually subordinated.

Over 30 years of war have not helped matters either.

Limited optimism

Sima Samar is not that hopeful about the near future, especially because women's rights, and human rights generally, are not high on the agenda anymore. She explains that in the early stages of its involvement in Afghanistan, in 2002 and 2003, one of the main goals of the international community was clearly "to empower women and improve their rights" but this is no longer the case.

"The focus is more on reconciliation, but without clear conditions, without respect for human rights, accountability and justice and with a lack of transparency for the public," she criticizes.

The 54-year old adds that one of the reasons women’s rights are no longer being prioritized is that the international community "wants to show goodwill to the Taliban and the armed opposition of the government."

Author: Sandra Petersmann / act
Editor: Ziphora Robina

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