On 26 January 2022, the European Union (EU) Ambassador to Kazakhstan H.E. Kestutis Jankauskas, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Resident Representative in Kazakhstan Mr. Yakup Beris, and Director of the Department for Europe, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Kazakhstan, Mr. Timur Sultangozhin, held an annual online meeting to discuss the latest developments in the regional initiative aimed at providing education to Afghan women and girls. The online meeting was also attended by H.E. Charlotte Adriaen, EU Ambassador to Uzbekistan, representatives of the EU Delegation in Kyrgyzstan, Ms. Elmira Asan, Head of the Department of International Cooperation, Ministry of Education and Science of the Republic of Kazakhstan, Ms. Aizada Apysheva, Head of Department of International Cooperation and Interaction, Ministry of Education and Science of the Kyrgyz Republic, Ms. Maria Dotsenko, UN Women Representative in Kazakhstan, representatives of UNDP Country Offices of Afghanistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Uzbekistan, and representatives of partner-universities.
The academic scholarship is designed to give Afghan women and girls the opportunity to receive education and acquire professional skills. By improving Afghan women's access to the quality higher education, the initiative aims to build resilience and promote the Sustainable Development Goals in Afghanistan and in a broader region of Central Asia.
Participants at the meeting expressed their commitment to support this programme that benefit people in need. The initiative directly addresses the most pressing issues of gender equality, access to quality education for women and girls in Afghanistan, facilitates partnership and cooperation in a wider region, promotes peace and contributes to poverty eradication.
‘All of us, the population of Central Asian countries and the European Union, are united to keep peace, stability and security,’ – said the European Union (EU) Ambassador to Kazakhstan, Kestutis Jankauskas. ‘The best way to maintain common values and connectivity between Europe and Central Asia and between Central Asian countries is to invest in human capital. Investment in human capital starts with education. As European Union we have a clear position to continue providing support to people of Afghanistan to go through these difficult times’.
In 2021 the programme entered its second phase, and the Kyrgyz Republic joined the programme as a new participating country. The expansion of the programme provides more beneficiaries with the opportunity to obtain the coveted education and university degrees in various fields. Study programmes in the new phase include BA, MA and TVET training in various fields including Agriculture, Finance/Statistics, Mining, Construction/Engineering, Marketing and Computer Science.
The European Union has provided a grant of €6 million for the programme, including the pilot and second phases. UNDP in Kazakhstan is an implementing partner of the initiative. Yakup Beris, UNDP Resident Representative in Kazakhstan stated: ‘Women and girls should not be left behind. It is essential that the hard-won rights of Afghan women and girls are protected. Providing education opportunities and maintaining the continuity of support for women and girls in Afghanistan impacts both the immediate and long-term development and peace’.
The pilot phase of the programme was launched in 2019 and has provided academic scholarships to 50 women from Afghanistan. Currently, they are studying in Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. The project participants of the second phase have already started a language foundation year online.
This cross-border initiative, funded by the European Union and implemented by UNDP, allows Afghan women to study and graduate from universities in Central Asia. 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, 155 young women from Afghanistan will receive education in Central Asian universities until 2027.