Girls Denied Education in Afghan Province

Locals complain that minimal resources and poor security are excluding female students.

Residents of Maidan Wardak province in central Afghanistan have criticised the government for failing to provide adequate education for girls.

Local leaders claimed that female students were routinely denied access to education across the province, with a number of districts failing to provide a single school for girls.

Nafisa Sailai Wardak, deputy head of Maidan Wardak’s provincial council, said that ongoing security concerns were accentuating the problem.

“Due to the continuing threat posed by the Taleban, girls’ schools have been closed in some areas while in others only young girls up to the age of 13 can attend,” she said.

“There just aren’t enough separate girls’ schools staffed by female teachers,” agreed local activist Abdul Qayyum Rastman. “Many families don’t want their girls to be taught by male teachers.”

With a population of a around a million, Maidan Wardak province lies 35km west of Afghanistan’s capital, Kabul.

According to officials, the area has 482 educational centres and teacher training facilities, although more than half of these –247 – are simply outdoor meeting areas rather than physical structures.

They estimate that 176,000 children in the province are currently in education. Just over a quarter of these students are girls.

According to their figures, more than 4,800 teachers  - including around 350 women - are employed in schools across the province’s nine districts.

Rastman told IWPR that aside from the predominantly Hazara districts of Hisa-i-Awali Bihsud and Markazi Bihsud, much of the province was controlled by the Taleban.

He said the insurgents monitored many of the schools and in some cases had banned vocational curriculums and replaced lessons on history and culture with religious studies.

The activist said he believed that more than 50 per cent of school age girls in the province were currently deprived of any form of education due to a combination of Taleban rule and a lack of female teachers.

In districts controlled by insurgents, he continued, girls were usually only allowed to attend school up to the sixth grade. Those who were allowed to study beyond the age of 13 were only permitted to do if they had not yet reached puberty and their physical appearance made them seem younger.

Abdul Rahman Mangal, a spokesman for Maidan Wardak’s governor, maintained that all districts across the province were committed to improving education.

He acknowledged that the number of female students was low, but said that there had been “positive changes” in the number of male students going on to university.

Zinatullah Wahidyar, a teacher at Awal Baba high school in the centre of Maidan Shar district, also said that facilities were improving.He claimed that there was increased teacher training provision and that a number of schools now boasted computer and science laboratories as well as libraries.

Similarly, Suleiman Khan, a teacher in Shaikh Abad school in Saydabad district, argued that both educational standards and security were on the up.

“Residents of Maidan Wardak province have a special interest in education because there is less opportunity for farming here and therefore parents have to ensure their children study if they’re to have any opportunity of a brighter future,” he said.

Sharifullah Hotak, a member of the provincial council, emphasised that security was essential if access to education was to be improved.

Continued conflict in more remote areas, he noted, was still preventing students from attending schools.

“All parties - farmers, village heads, families and state forces… should all support the process,” he said.

Mohammad Sharif, a 34-year-old resident of Chak district, said that while there were only a few schools for female students in his area, there were also clear issues with boys’ education too.

He cited one particular problem of teachers sending their students home from class should that teacher take the view that he had something more important to do.

“One of my sons who is at Omar Farooq High School in Chak district comes home twice a week during lesson time,” he said. “He says that his teacher tells him to go home because he has other work to do.