Nai Qala’s actions are aimed at reducing gender inequalities
While the world has made progress towards gender equality and women’s empowerment, women and girls continue to suffer discrimination in all regions of Afghanistan. Literacy rate of young women is still only 57 percent of that of young men . The indices for education attendance ratios also show unambiguous gender disparities, which decrease with the level of education (47.6 percent of girls attend primary; 23.7 percent attend secondary and 5.2 attend tertiary education level). The share of Afghan women participating in the economy is only one third of that of men, and the indices for unemployment and the proportion of youth outside education, employment or training show a very disadvantaged position of women on the labor market.
The gender gap in both education and economy suggests that cultural impediments prohibit tapping the development potential of girls and women in Afghan society and restrict their access to education and the labor market. In order to remedy this imbalance, Nai Qala has set gender equality at the core of all its projects. Nai Qala’s vision is an educated, healthy and balanced society in which women and men lead social, cultural and economic changes in an inclusive manner that enables their children – boys and girls – to thrive, focusing on neglected parts of Afghanistan.
Ease of access to quality education and health services
Long distance to school and reluctance to send children to school are by far the most common reasons for not starting school, whereas the need for child labor and perceived irrelevance of further education were the most important reasons highlighted by ALCS for terminating education . In order to reduce walking distances, Nai Qala strives to build, or refurbish, schools and improve the quality of education in remote regions. A decent and closer learning environment as well as improved education services are a big motivation for children to (re-)attend school. Katawaie is a perfect illustration of the impact of a new building on children’s registration to school. After its inauguration, the school of Katawaie became a victim of its own success as the number of girl students increased by 25 percent and new classes had to be opened in the school’s courtyard. A similar impact is been seen in Zeera Gag where initially the school was built for 520 girls but is today attended by 650 girls.
One of the most important findings of the living condition survey (ALCS) is that the main problem of the Afghan education system is not so much retention and drop out, but first and foremost making a start at school. Nai Qala has implemented early childhood education classes in two villages and plans to open new ones. Early childhood education classes not only help boys and girls to develop their imagination, talents and confidence from a very young age, but also teach them how to play together, inclusively, as a normal habit. Newly acquired attitudes, behaviors and experiences of young children contribute to their long-term success in school and reduce drop-out rates. The early childhood program also places a special focus on mothers, by actively involving them in the class. Such a program has a particular impact on the family. Mothers build their self-confidence and most importantly their awareness of how they can educate their children at young age to contribute to a more healthy family environment.
According to ALCS, an encouraging 70 percent of all women who had a baby in Afghanistan during the last five years had at least one antenatal check-up. However, only 16 percent received four antenatal check-ups, which is the number recommended by the World Health Organization for normal pregnancies. Again, distance to a health care center can be a contributing factor to low usage of health services but it is not the only one. Men with a health concern can travel to town to get treatment in a hospital, but the situation for sick or pregnant women is more challenging. A woman who is ill must be accompanied to hospital by a female and by a male relative. Some health problems require a longer stay in hospital and some need medical follow-up over months. Furthermore, families are often reluctant to pay the costs of prolonged hospitalization. Consequently, women simply do not travel to far away hospitals. Considering this fact, Nai Qala Association built a basic health center in Nawur. The percentage of births attended by skilled health personnel there is increasing each year; for 2017 alone, 126 babies were safely delivered in the Nawur health center. This clinic benefits 20’000 people and has transformed health conditions and hygiene habits in the region, for both women and men.
Leading the change by setting an example
The Nai Qala Association aims to contribute to cultural change in Afghanistan. The organization’s president, Taiba Rahim, is a role model in a country where female leadership  is still rare. Inspiring girls to see that change is possible and that women have an important role to play is crucial for the country’s future. There is a greater participation of women in Nai Qala’s projects than in any other similar project in the region. The women have seen that Nai Qala’s projects are proposed and led by a woman, which makes all the difference for them. Newly acquired strength and self-confidence prompted women in the remote village of Sokhtagi to create a women’s council, the first ever women’s council not only in the district, but certainly also throughout the province.
All Nai Qala’s local employees receive training on human rights and gender equality. Each staff member embodies the organization’s values through exemplarity of his/her practice and actions, in the office and in the field. Teacher-trainers have become Nai Qala’s best ambassadors to promote girls’ education, by discussing with the community and motivating parents in door-to-door operations.
Providing women and girls with equal access to education, health services, decent work, and representation in decision-making processes can fuel sustainable economies and benefit families, and communities at large. Gender equality is not only a fundamental human right, but also a foundation for a peaceful, prosperous and sustainable country. Any small improvement towards gender equality can bring big changes in the mindset of and benefit the whole society.
 All figures are taken from the Afghanistan Living Conditions Survey 2016 – 2017 (ALCS), released May 7, 2018. Central Statistics Organization (CSO) of the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan. http://cso.gov.af/Content/files/Surveys/ALCS/Final%20English%20ALCS%20Highlight(1).pdf
 The percentage of women working in managerial job position is still only 6.6 percent of that of men (ALCS, 2018).