Major Problems and Proposed Solutions for Women’s Education in Afghanistan

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A major social problem in many developing countries is the educational system. For women and girls in Afghanistan, attending schools has not been possible due to the forceful laws and control of the Taliban, which is a militant Islamic fundamentalist political group in Afghanistan. Since the defeat of the Taliban group in 2001, women are slowly coming to recognize their full potential both within the educational system and other aspects of their daily lives. The U.S. and Afghani governments have funded projects to help the educational system but lack in policing them has led to shaky stability in these projects that takes time and constant monitoring. The work of NGO’s (non-governmental organizations) and non-profit organizations have provided international engagement by all humans but their efforts are not fully recognized. The power of social media is untapped and bursting with opportunity for global campaigns that have harnessed its power and used it to benefit women’s right to an education among other priorities. Many obstacles hold back the education of women in Afghanistan, primarily the interpretation of Shari’a law, but the work of governments, NGO’s, and social and mass media can provide immediate and long-term benefits to women’s basic right to an education in Afghanistan.

To know how to best move forward, one must understand the past. Since the late 1970’s, Afghanistan has been a country of conflict, with wars waged between Afghanistan’s mujahideen troops (jihad guerilla fighters) and the Soviet regime. The United States military supported mujahideen in their opposition against the Soviets until the early 1990’s when Soviet forces retreated (Afghanistan 2). During this time period many oppressive laws were enacted which restricted women’s rights. In Culture and Customs of Afghanistan, Hafizullah Emadi states, “Women are subordinated to men and are obligated to obey them… Women are regarded as creatures who have no other social function but to please their husbands” (168-169). These kind of thoughts were norms that turned into tradition in the Afghan culture and way of life. Once the Taliban militia started gaining control of Kabul, (Afghanistan’s capital) legal rights of women declined immensely. Women were deprived of their right to an education or to hold a job as Taliban law forbids any form of public schooling or any type of employment outside of the home and is considered a crime. One out of every twenty girls received an education starting in the early 1990’s (Afghanistan 2). Once Al Qaeda attacked the U.S. on September 11, 2001, U.S. troops invaded Afghanistan which ended the Taliban regime. The U.S. had its own agenda in establishing a unified government as it encouraged elders and leaders to create a democratic government. Afghan President Hamid Karzai was elected interim president by the loya jirga in 2002 and was later voted in as president in 2004.

Under the new democratic government women were finally released from the oppression they had received for decades. At this point only 13% of female adults were literate (Benard 38). With so few literate females in Afghanistan, any chance for the rise of women-empowerment groups was slim to none. As the U.S. government helped to establish the new Afghanistan constitution, women leaders from the U.S. worked with any literate  women leaders in Afghanistan to secure the their rights. After a few established women groups in Afghanistan grew stronger, a notion to state and secure their rights was formulated. Under Article Forty-Four of The Constitution of Afghanistan, verbiage reads that “The state shall devise and implement effective programs to create and foster balanced education for women, improve education of nomads as well as eliminate illiteracy in the country” (Islamic Republic of Afghanistan 12). Women groups finally had something in writing to encourage their basic right to education and begin reconstruction of the ruined educational system.

After separately examining the human rights’ violations conducted under Shari’a law and the Taliban one can conclude that education is the most important goal in the nation-building of this country. A report of citizen’s concerns reveals that education is the number one priority (Ayubi, Table 1). In 2005 the female adult literacy rate was measured at approximately 21 percent (Education 95). And in 2011, it was measured at 13% (Afghanistan Country Office Education Factsheet UNICEF, Table 1). For more statistics on women’s education in Afghanistan please refer to Afghan Statistics Part I.

While violence against women remains an extreme problem and limits some young women from attending school, violence against women has always been an issue in Afghanistan and is not considered a new cause that limits women’s education. There are four major limits on women’s education that include underage marriage, attacks at newly built schools, the lack of female teachers in the school system and the interpretation of Shari’a law. The interpretation of Shari’a law will be the major focus in this evaluation of the educational system currently in place in Afghanistan. While child marriage is against the law, many families residing in rural and remote parts of Afghanistan practice baad, which allows parents to sell their daughters to either settle disputes, or more commonly, receive necessities like refrigerators or cars. Surprising statistics reveal that “60 to 80 percent of all marriages in Afghanistan are forced marriages and that 57 percent of girls are married before the age of sixteen” (Afghanistan 7).  While child marriage is a common practice which inhibits female access to education, a more disruptive occurrence happens within the educational system when schools are attacked by small groups associated with the Taliban.

“The Taliban have increasingly attacked soft targets such as schools, teachers, and girls attending schools, as well as NGOs working in schools, to instill terror in the population. Attacks on educational facilities and personnel, throughout the country, increased by 24 percent from 236 incidents in 2007 to 293 in 2008… According to UNICEF, in 2008, 92 people were killed and 169 injured as a result of such attacks” (Afghanistan 8).

These attacks influence females to not desire attending school as they are afraid of being harmed or even killed. Additionally, parents do not want their children attending school in fear for their safety and security (Education 99). Finally, the lack of female teachers in the school system has led to more male teachers who tend to prefer to teach boys only. A generation gap occurred when Afghan women who should have been receiving high school and college education were deprived of that right in the 1990’s and 2000’s. “Women are under-represented as teachers at all levels, and this is compounded by a lack of educated and employable women to fill positions in various sectors” (Education 98). Those women could be fulfilling the female teaching roles that are so desperately needed, but are receiving that education now instead of then. As twenty-seven percent of all teachers in Afghanistan are currently women, it is a goal for the Ministry of Women’s Affairs, which is a government office that deals with women’s rights and programs in Afghanistan, to have at least half of all teachers to be women as well as other roles and to train at least 150,000 women in different skills according to their talents in the coming years (Education 97).

The Shari’a law, also known as the authoritative word of God in Islamic religion, has played the most important role and is the leading cause of oppression of women in Afghanistan. The Koran (religious text of Islam) generally states that women are lesser than men though many would argue that it protects the rights of women although it does state that men are the dominant sex. Shari’a is the law of the land that has been interpreted by councils of tribal members since the early 600’s when the rise of Islam began. Since then, Shari’a has always stated that while men are the dominant sex, it does not claim men to be abusive to women, whether that be in the household, in public areas, in schooling, or any other ways. In fact, women are almost as equal to men in all regards except some disputes among property rights and household claims. The interpretation of Shari’a law primarily led to the oppression among women in the mid 1900’s and gained immense support in the 1990’s when the Taliban regime rose to power. Imams are authoritative figures of the Shari’a law who, generally in rural areas, dictate Shari’a law as determined by their own judgment along with the opinions of the elders of the area. Beliefs that derive from these interpretations turn into sociological norms that are rooted deep into the culture and tradition of Afghanistan.

“In Afghanistan, historical tribal organizations has created a set of practices built on two main principles regarding women. The first is that they are subordinate to men in society; the second is that they are responsible for the honor of the family and the extended family. These long-standing cultural traditions often usurp any legal code that exists, even where people are aware of its existence. A number of the practices related to these tribal traditions are strongly detrimental to the rights and well-being of women” (Benard 73).

While laws made under the constitution are in writing and spoken to crowds of people proclaiming democracy, many rural areas like those in rocky terrains with no roads, groups of Muslims still live under the practices of tradition and Taliban-like culture. In Culture and Customs of Afghanistan, “Hanafi jurisprudence recognizes consensus, analogy, and private opinion in administering laws and does not stress a literal interpretation of the Quran” (Emadi 57). Families discourage women who seek an education and dismiss them from the family, tribe, or even village for having such radical ideas of wanting to seek such an education. Some families’ beliefs hold on to the idea that that female roles are solely in the home. They make a case that their children might not have a mother and there will be no one to do the work at home. If girls leave to seek primary or secondary education, they will not be able to help their mothers with the chores or learn proper training to be a wife. But if women and girls are to even begin taking the first steps of gaining an education, the families must be supportive of their rights. This cultural stigma is a leading deterrent which may hold women back.

The major road in countering the influence traditions of Islamic culture have on society is to begin a new way of thinking. Beginning to implement the idea that both males and females are equal to one another in the early stages of children’s development will pave the way for women’s rights to be accepted as cultural norms. As stated in article Twenty-Two in the Afghan Constitution, “The citizens of Afghanistan, man and woman, have equal rights and duties before the law” (Islamic Republic of Afghanistan 9). Once these ideas are introduced and accepted into one generation, they will be accepted as a norm in society in the following generations. From this a new tradition will begin and light the path in the reformation of education and the rebuilding of Afghanistan as a nation. Major developing organizations are following the pursuit of change by bringing up documents to the new government that include programs and steps to manage the process of change.

One of these documents has been brought up by the Ministry of Women’s Affairs (MoWA) called the National Action Plan for the Women of Afghanistan (NAPWA); which is thoroughly researched and provides the major problems Afghan women face and clearly defined solutions to these problems. In Chapter Nine in the NAPWA titled Education, it states “A vigorous campaign in the value of female education and training will be pursued. Parents and communities… will be encouraged to form support groups to ensure their involvement in girls’ education” (Education 101). MoWA understands that there is an unspoken cultural norm where mostly men in rural and remote areas believe that women and girls should not receive any education. MoWA is working on setting up these new cultural norms that reflect how American families practice education. The plan calls for surveys to be performed so the MoWA may have a better idea of the need for education in the years to come. Other groups have come in to change traditional mindset as well.

While Afghanistan’s government has their own way of providing a solution to the education problem, the U.S. has placed different departments in the government in charge of providing support and help to women’s groups. The United States Institute of Peace (USIP) came out with a Special Report in December 2012 that addresses lessons learned within the past ten years and includes specific goals that the U.S. government is committed to further advance. Some goals of the USIP will be to work within the religious sectors in communities to ensure women’s rights (United States 3). Seeing as how the Shari’a law is based on their religious beliefs, it seems understandable to work within the religious system to begin the push for equality of women’s rights. This goal is used as a solution to the interpretation of the Shari’a law problem and will help men understand the equality of sexes, also solving the problem of the lack of women teachers because men will be more receptive of equality in the school system. The enforcement of the EVAW law that constitutes child marriages, baad, and other matters of illegal marriage practices as criminal acts and will also be used as a solution to one of the major problems that limit women’s education, child marriage. Other government support comes from SIGAR, Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction that provided $627 million from 2003 to 2010 for women and girls in Afghanistan (2 United States i). Congress directed these funds to provide NGOs (non-governmental groups), MoWA, and the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission the necessary support to begin training and reconstruction of the education system in Afghanistan among other priorities.

Although the government support programs benefit Afghanistan immensely due to the amount of funding they include, the help of groups like The Asia Foundation and UNICEF tend to attract more people because of their dedicated missions and constant monitoring of the educational systems in Afghanistan. Citizens around the world can contribute financially or volunteer with these organizations to secure women’s rights immediately. One of the programs of UNICEF was a back-to-school campaign which resulted in 400 schools reopening. Children can be educated in schools sponsored by UNICEF’s training programs and curriculum but most recently UNICEF has built Cost Effective Schools giving more than 148,000 children schools to attend as well as learning and teaching materials to instructors and students (Afghanistan Country Office Education Factsheet UNICEF 1). The Asia Foundation has been working in Kabul to provide projects and reports about the conditions of different aspects of Afghanistan’s culture. Overall, the work of these NGO’s shows a  devoted commitment to the empowerment of women in Afghanistan but the work of these organizations could be advertised in a more efficient way to show the true potential of their programs and the help they are providing in women’s education.

Mass media seems to be an untried solution towards gaining support for women’s education in general, projects introduced by NGOs, and providing visual and written truth of their school system. While the effect of media is great, its potential has been untapped.  The magnitude of media’s effect spans across the globe rather than just affecting those who work in governmental matters, or are limited to just the country of Afghanistan. One of the best examples of the journalists working the power of media comes from a documentary, Girl Rising which has been shown at Baylor and has been reviewed under numerous newspapers and stations in written and televised forms. Girl Rising comes from the works of a global campaign, 10X10, for girls’ education. Pulling journalists from all over the world, Girl Rising tells the personal stories of nine girls from countries that have experienced some type of problem in their educational system and how those girls are pursuing their education despite obstacles. 10×10 believes that the use of filmmaking, a powerful social-media device, draws an audience by the use of compelling storytelling and hard-hitting statistics coming from credible sources that 10X10 works with (Girl Rising). The point of the message is simple, to share. In this news-hungry society humans live in today, people want to know what is happening now, not yesterday, but currently, and the more people know about something, the more people are informed with what is happening. Change begins with the involvement of many people, “The more people who share that message – through social networks, at the dinner table, in boardrooms, in rural villages – the more support we build” (Girl Rising).  While statistics are still being surveyed, one can see the effect Kony 2012 had in its global campaign. In 2012, a campaign was launched to make Joseph Kony, a war criminal and leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army ‘famous’ by the release of a YouTube video that became viral within a few months. According to the Invisible Children website, “The experiment yielded the fastest growing viral video of all time. 3.7 million people pledged their support for efforts to arrest Joseph Kony” (Invisible Children). Although support grew rapidly, it faded just as fast. No new videos were released to encourage or support the efforts made by humans all around the world to make him famous and Kony has yet to be captured. As well, Jason Russell has lost most of his credibility as the co-founder of Kony 2012 because of his naked mental breakdown in San Diego. Lesson learned: as media can make you, it can also break you. But a final example of media comes from the film, The Stoning of Soraya M., which tells the true story of Soraya whose husband wanted to marry a young girl but rather not support his wife and their two daughters. He calls the imam of the village and other elders to form a mob ruling in where she is accused of a crime she never committed and eventually have her stoned to death. The original story was documented by a French journalist, Friedoune Sahabjam who happened upon this village in 1986 and published the story which, although has taken many years to become globally acknowledged, has reached international attention as they received runner-up against Slumdog Millionare for an award at the Toronto International Film Festival (The Stoning of Soraya M.).

These examples show media at its best and worst, but the impact it has on society is unforgettable. These stories from films, articles, and reports make headlines and call for action to be done. If women’s education in Afghanistan wants to receive the most support so that people can know they are treated and expend proof that there is a problem, media has to be the best answer. It starts with journalists becoming involved in an idea to provoke society’s norms and dive into the lives of these women to show what is really going on and how others can help. The Asia Foundation has released numerous reports on girls’ education from journalists working in Kabul and UNICEF releases documents annually about the progress reported in their work and what the work includes. These are all forms of social media as these documents are shared on the web but are not marketed to more websites or news sources. As for the U.S. government, reports come out usually under the radar because Congress is working on current U.S. issues and in Afghanistan’s government, not all proclamations or laws are recognized by its people due to limited web access and little care for these declarations. But the use of journalists conveying information and stories comes as the best way to provide support both financially and physically by creating a call to action internationally.

In conclusion, media is an outlet where anyone can express and share ideas, but why not use a daily part of humans’ social life to make a change in the world? More journalists need to recognize the acceptance of media in all forms from worldwide usage. While the major problems that limit women’s education in Afghanistan remain child marriage, lack of female school teachers, the terror attacks at schools, and the traditional interpretation of Shari’a law hinder the goals of governmental sectors, non-governmental and non-profit women and international groups, a solution that has yet to be released in the form of social media from films, articles, and concerned journalists.

 Works Cited

“Afghanistan.” Def. A. Encyclopedia of Human Rights. 2012. 2009. Oxford Reference. Oxford

University Press, 2009. Web. 6 Apr. 2013. <


“Afghanistan Country Office Education Factsheet UNICEF.” Ministry of Education, Education

Interim Plan (2011): n. pag. UNICEF. Web. 15 Apr. 2013.  <>.

Ayubi, Najla. “Women’s Biggest Problems in Afghanistan.” In Asia Weekly Insight and

Analysis from The Asia Foundation (2007): n. pag. The Asia Foundation. Web. 15 Apr. 2013.


Benard, Cheryl, et al. Women and Nation-Building. Santa Monica: RAND, 2008. Print.

“Education.” National Action Plan for the Women of Afghanistan (NAPWA) 2008-2018. N.p.:

Ministry of Women’s Affairs, 2008. 95-105. Ministry of Women’s Affairs Islamic Republic of Afghanistan. Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, 2008. Web. 15 Apr. 2013. <>.

Emadi, Hafizullah. Culture and Customs of Afghanistan. Westport: Greenwood Press, 2005.


Girl Rising. Dir. Richard Robbins. 2013. Ten Times Ten and Vulcan Productions, 2013. Film.


Invisible Children. Fifty and Fifty, n.d. Web. 2 May 2013.


Islamic Republic of Afghanistan. The Constitution of Afghanistan. Kabul: GPO, 26 Jan. 2004.

Web. <>.

The Stoning of Soraya M. N.p., n.d. Web. 2 May 2013.


United States. Institute of Peace. Center for Gender and Peacebuilding. United States Institute of

Peace Special Report: Peacebuilding Efforts from Women in Afghanistan and Iraq Lessons in Transition. 319. Washington: GPO, 2012. Ed. Kathleen Kuehnast, Steven Steiner, and Hodei Sultan. Dec. 2012. Web. 2 Apr. 2013. <>.

2 United States. Office of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction. Office

of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction Greater Coordination Needed in Meeting Congressional Directives to Address and Report on the Needs of Afghan Women and Girls. SIGAR Audit-10-13. Arlington: GPO, 2010. Ed. John Brummet. 30 July 2010. Web. 2 Apr. 2013. <>.

4 thoughts on “Major Problems and Proposed Solutions for Women’s Education in Afghanistan”

  1. Dear Major Problems and Proposed Solutions for Women’s Education in Afghanistan,

    I am a 6th grader at Park Middle School. I‘m doing a Global Citizenship Project on education in Afghanistan. I would like to know your real life experiences in regard to this issue and what is being done to solve this issue.


    1. Sorry I am slow to responding to this, I was on vacation for the past two weeks.

      First, thanks for reading and asking!

      Second: So, just like you, I did multiple research projects on women in developing countries throughout high school. When I came to college I became primarily interested in women in the middle east seeing as how women in Afghanistan are helping in major ways to rebuild their country. My “real-life experiences” are not so real-life. I have never been outside the country but hope to someday. My experience with writing this essay comes from 1) being a female myself, and 2) understanding the social and economic issues surrounding women’s oppression through research and interviewing others. I truly hope to travel to the middle east someday as a journalist to interview and help create positive change for women in Afghanistan but, as of right now, being in college doesn’t really allow me much mobility.

      I hope your project turns out well 🙂


      – Kate

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