A new cross-border initiative will allow Afghan women to study and graduate from universities in the neighbouring Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan.
The first cohort of students arrived in Kazakhstan in October to start an eight month-long English course, which will prepare them for Bachelor's, Master's and vocational education programs in Kazakh universities.
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.
“Making sure girls and women get quality education is a key priority for the EU and at the core of the new EU Central Asia Strategy and the EU Afghanistan Strategy. We should recognise now and always, that gender equality and empowerment of women and girls are not only fundamental human rights but also smart policy,” said Raffaella Iodice, Head of Unit, Middle East, Central Asia, South Asia, European Commission.
According to the 2018 UNDP Human Development Report, only 11 percent of all Afghan women have reached secondary education and only 19.5 percent are employed, while these numbers are 37 percent and 87 percent for men, respectively. In 2016-2017, more than half of the Afghan population was living below the poverty line.
“Women are key contributors to the growth of their national economies. Despite their significant contributions to society, women’s work is often unmonetized, and they lack equal access to education, decent work and equal pay,” Agi Veres, Deputy Regional Director of UNDP said. “We’re proud to support countries in designing economic policies and strategies that take into consideration the differentiated needs and contributions of women, and which address gender-based disparities in access to services and resources.”
The European Union (EU) provided a €2 million grant for the initiative, which will be implemented by UNDP over 7 years. 50 students will attend Bachelor’s, Master’s and technical degrees in agriculture, applied statistics and mining at academic establishments across Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. The university education will be complemented by summer schools on entrepreneurship and networking, supported by UN Women. “We are confident that this training will be expanding economic opportunities and choices for the Afghan women and thus contribute to better livelihoods”, said Dagmar Schumacher, Director, UN Women Brussels Office.
Overall, the initiative is expected to create new business opportunities for the women, which will further contribute to the development of their communities in Afghanistan.
Khatera Atayee, a student who recently arrived in Kazakhstan, expressed confidence that she will return to Afghanistan with the right skills and experience to contribute to the development of her country.
“Very often lack of education deprives women of decision-making roles in our societies. I want to use my chance to study, grow as a professional and make sure women’s voices are fully heard in Afghanistan”, she said.