Mezhgan, a 25 year-old Afghan woman is a courageous person, and a star athlete, with a place on the Afghanistan women's national volleyball team. She is also a keen student, and has always dreamt of pursuing higher education outside of her home country. Today, together with 30 other young Afghan women, she is a scholarship holder for a Master’s degree programme in Almaty, Kazakhstan.
She is a strong believer in empowering women and girls. She used to train girls to play sports, and spent a lot of time trying to convince their conservative parents to allow them to participate. Grappling with a legacy of war and the stripping of women’s rights under the Taliban, Afghanistan is one of the toughest places in the world to grow up female. Mezhgan has observed that, met with resistance to their dreams, many young women abandon sports or other pursuits which are traditionally not seen as open to women as they get older. Mezhgan is one of the lucky ones, as her parents have supported her in her sport and educational ambitions.
"this was made for me."
She believes that freedom in society can only come through struggling to achieve it. “If you don’t try to achieve your goals and dreams, others won’t do it for you,” she says. She still recalls when she first saw the scholarship advertised on UNDP Afghanistan social media post.
“I had a feeling that this was made for me. I applied and I was shortlisted. I think there were more than 100 applicants for the tests. I was anxious but I was hopeful and optimistic about my test results” she adds.
After passing the written test and attending an interview for scholarship, Muzhgan was resting at home after a busy day at work. “When I checked my email, I saw the congratulatory email from UNDP.” Said Muzhgan. “That was one the best moments of my life; this scholarship opened a door of opportunities to a bright future, so that I can continue to participate in the sport community in Afghanistan and help vulnerable women.”
Muzhgan and her four classmates have now begun their degree in Finance at the Kazakh-British-Technical University in Almaty.
Muzhgan and the first cohort of Afghan women arrived in Almaty in October 2019. They took a week-long introductory course at Almaty Management University (AlmaU), where they learned about the training program, had a tour around the campus and learned about the life of the University, as well as the culture and society of Kazakhstan.
The “Supporting the Economic Empowerment of Afghan Women through Education and training in Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan” is an EU-funded initiative, which is implemented by UNDP.
Corona Virus and Education
By the end of the academic year at Language school, the Coronavirus pandemic has changed everything, and the study programme of Muzhgan and her classmates was not an exception.
“Coronavirus put a pause on almost everything, but not our education,” said Muzhgan.
Since January, the university has been using the latest technologies for online studies, submitting homework, getting feedback and for evaluations. During the quarantine, which started in March 2020 in Kazakhstan, they continued using this learning platform. Zoom videoconferencing solved the problem of holding interactive classes.
“Staying at my dorm gives me more focus and time to study, to research my subjects, to do my work without any stress, and even to do my daily fitness exercises in my room, at the same time as learning to cook new dishes and food.”
Ms. Yuliya Chulkova, a language tutor at AlmaU, has noticed that her students have become more focused and disciplined with distance learning, “No more excuses for arriving late or missing classes. I see great learning improvements at my listening and reading classes.”
Above all, however, Muzhgan is worried about her family in Afghanistan.
“I talk to my family every day. I provide them with all the latest information and tips on how to prevent the virus and how to reduce stress.”
In addition, Muzhgan has big plans for the future. She and her roommate are working on plans to start their own organization to help women athletes achieve their dreams and advocate for their rights.
This initiative is funded by the European Union (EU) and implemented by UNDP and aims to provide educational opportunities for Afghan women, who face disproportionate barriers to education and employment compared to their male counterparts back home.
A new batch of students has been recruited by UNDP this summer. 20 Afghan women are expected to start their studies in Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan soon.
This cross-border initiative, funded by the European Union (EU) and implemented by UNDP, allows Afghan women 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 education in Central Asian universities until 2025.