In many countries, education is taken for granted, it is the norm. In contrast, in some societies women still lack equal access or equal opportunities to education regardless of their abilities and aspirations. Women in Afghanistan continue to strive for an education against all odds and despite all the challenges they have to confront.
How does education impact a woman’s life? What does gender equality mean for an Afghan girl or a woman in her society?
Three Afghan students’ academic quests and the turmoil it involved ended in success. Aspirations were fulfilled. For them education meant having a future, it meant equality and opportunity, a door to a new life.
When a woman shares her personal story, she inspires other women to follow her lead and to dare to dream. On the eve of International Women’s Day, three Afghan women currently studying in Kazakhstan in the framework of a European Union-funded initiative have shared their personal stories of struggle and of achievement on the road to receiving education, representing Generation Equality of their country.
“There is no difference between genders really. However, in my society in Afghanistan, being who I am is an obstacle to achieving my goals and aspirations. How is it possible to thrive and survive when we constantly hear the words ‘You are a girl’ ‘You are too frail to do it’ ‘You must stay at home’?
That is why I think that gender equality and education are crucial. Gender equality is an important concept to promote and strive for in every society. Every woman should learn how to step forward, how to be seen and heard. She should confront her fears and doubts by asking herself: ‘If not me, who then? If not now, when?’
“Although many people in my country oppose women’s education, my family supports education for both men and women. The only issue was my going abroad. The perception is -- if a girl goes abroad, it’s hard to control her, to look after her. If I study in Afghanistan, I’ll remain visible. People will see me, how I’m dressed, how I’m attending university.
“But if I’m outside the country, they won’t see what I’m doing. My father’s family is rather conservative, so that’s why it was difficult. My mother supported me. Together with my sisters and brothers, she convinced my father to let me study abroad. So, for us, girls, it’s very difficult to take a step forward, to make a decision unilaterally that ‘I am going to get a secondary education, a higher education’. But, after seeing that I am ok here and I’m studying, my father changed his mind and is very proud that I am studying for my Master’s in Kazakhstan”.
27 years old, Laghman province, Afghanistan, Studying for an M.A. in Plant Science and Technology, Kazakh National Agrarian University
“Gender equality is a fundamental human right, an essential element of social justice. But even today, inequalities between women and men persist in academic, political, economic, social, cultural and many other fields. People still continue to focus on traditional gender roles. It reduces their choices in education, in choosing an occupation and in deciding on life’s pathways.
“Overall, traditional gender roles reinforce harmful social norms in society, unequal power relationships between genders, gender-specific assignments of family responsibilities and even violence against women and girls. For example, in Afghanistan even though women work together with men in agriculture and livestock rearing, they don’t have access to nor have the right to use economic and financial resources. I think that is so unfair.
“I hope that by raising awareness about gender equality someday men and women in Afghanistan will work together and enjoy equal rights and financial freedom, free from discrimination.”
This cross-border initiative, funded by the European Union and implemented by UNDP, gives Afghan women the opportunity to study and graduate from universities in Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. The initiative aims to provide educational opportunities for Afghan women, who face disproportionate barriers to education and employment compared to their men counterparts back home. Overall, 50 young women from Afghanistan will receive an education in Central Asian universities until 2025.
This publication was produced with the financial support of the European Union. Its contents are the sole responsibility of UNDP Kazakhstan and UNDP Uzbekistan, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the European Union.