Tag Archives: gender equality

Girls’ education, a change of mindset

Promoting girls’ education and cultural changes through a capacity building program

Improving the quality of education provided in the schools Nai Qala has built. 

Overall, the quality of education in Afghanistan in particular in the rural areas is very low. To remedy this, the Nai Qala Association is not only providing school buildings in those isolated regions but also several tutoring classes in sciences, and preparation courses to the national test for university entrance. Without such classes, many girls would not have taken the exam, as parents do not have the means and motivation to send them to towns to get private lessons.

The role of Nai Qala’s teacher training in capacity building is much more than transferring scientific knowledge.
Inspired by her experience with western school systems that promote regular communication between teachers and parents, Nai Qala’s president motivated the teacher-trainers to establish such a culture. Trainers meet parents to encourage them to be supportive at home with their children. In remote rural regions, many parents are illiterate and cannot help children with their homework but can support them by giving them space and believing in them.

The trainers are very aware of the importance of the role of parents in children’s education and have realized that such support was missing in their time at school. Nai Qala’s teacher-trainers even go to visit parents of those students who do not participate during class; they walk for a few hours to find an almost isolated house, in the mountains, with a tiny piece of land and a few heads of cattle. When parents first see the teachers they are a bit afraid, wondering what they want from them and why they are coming to their house. However when the teachers introduce themselves and explain that it is part of their role to meet the parents, not only because their child comes to the capacity building class but also to congratulate the parents for sending them to the course, many parents cannot believe what they hear and get emotional. Amazingly, the teachers very often see a different attitude in their student in the next days. This girl or boy comes earlier to school and interacts more, now being aware that their teachers give them importance.

Teachers take initiatives to triggers girls involvement at school.
Teachers discuss among themselves the participation and involvement of students in the class. They, for example, decided to split into different classes two sisters who were too passive during the courses and encouraged the other girls in the classes to support the sisters. The girls cried and suffered a lot from the separation for a few days but then became the most talented students in the school after a few months.

A change in the mindset of teachers on girls’ education.
Nai Qala’s teacher-trainers themselves come from remote rural regions of central Afghanistan, originating from poor and traditional communities. “When I was in school, I studied in a mixed class, with girls. I always had one point in my mind: why should girls come to school? They are not made for school, what for?” remembered Jawad, a 26 year old, Nai Qala teacher-trainer. The job description of the teacher-trainers puts a special emphasis on girls’ education. Teachers have not only received training on human and women’s right but have also been coached by Nai Qala staff on how to encourage girls and their parents. Jawad recounted how once he saw a girl answering a very complex math problem in front of the class, his perception about girls was changed forever: “She started to write and competently solved the problem. In that minute, I went deep in thought and questioned myself: why was I so negative about girls? Is it the society that influenced me? Many questions came to my mind and on that night I could not sleep well… After that day, I became so determined that I must help girls. This is now my third year that I teach girls and help them in scientific subjects, together with my colleagues. Up to now, I have been helping about 1000 girls between the ages of 12 to 18. I never imagined I’d be able to do my job with such motivation. It is never too late to realize that girls have the same talents and deserve the same rights as boys. I am grateful to Nai Qala for helping me to realize this important point”.

With Nai Qala’s support, hundreds of girls are on their way to university. In one of the least developed rural regions of Afghanistan, this represents an extraordinary change and brings hope. The capacity building program is a tremendous platform that allows gradual cultural changes to be brought to the remote regions and promote girls’ education.

Gender equality

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 [1]. 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 [1]. 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 [2] 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.

 

[1] 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

[2] The percentage of women working in managerial job position is still only 6.6 percent of that of men (ALCS, 2018).

A clinic focusing on women

In the Nawur clinic project, mothers and babies are the primary focus of Nai Qala.

Men with a health concern can travel to town to get treatment in a hospital, but the situation for women is more challenging. A woman who is ill must be accompanied to hospital by at least one other female family member and by a male family member. If the woman has children, she must leave them behind if she goes for treatment. 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 clinics or hospitals that are far away. This is one reason for high female and child mortality rates and it is also why the Nai Qala Association built the Nawur clinic.

Inaugurated in November 2011, the clinic now has 11 staff providing health services for a population of 20,000 in the surrounding region. Since its opening, there have been more than 60,000 consultations, of which over 11,000 concerned children. Some 750 babies had been born in the clinic as of December 2017.

Nai Qala Association is proud to have been in direct contact with the Ministry of Public Health since the beginning of the project. Our original partnership with the ministry was from 2012 to 2016 and we were offered an extension to 2020. The administration of the Nawur clinic was transferred to the ministry in June 2015. In many official meetings the example of the Nawur health centre has been cited to show that it is possible to provide health services to one of the most isolated regions of Afghanistan.

Women in Nawur typically have large families. It is unusual to see a couple with fewer than five children. Most families have more, and it is not outside the norm to have 12 children. Observers may question why parents have such large families, especially given the economic limitations. However, where the survival rate of children is low, it is understandable that parents have more to increase the chance that some will survive. Limitations in care both during pregnancy and in the postpartum period leave mothers and babies at risk.

Reducing or eliminating these risks will reduce parents’ anxiety about their children’s survival and will foster a subsequent reduction in supernumerary pregnancies. The clinic is vital to reducing these pervasive risks.

As of the end of December 2017, 3156 women and 1022 children had been vaccinated in the clinic. Some 13,000 outpatient visits took place for a range of conditions that, without the clinic, would have gone untreated until they became far more serious, and the records show 125 cases of severe malnutrition receiving medical care. Some 175 Nawur patients were referred to other health facilities for more specialized treatment.

The local people have realized the clinic’s value – more women and babies are surviving – and they are determined not to give it up.

Women take the lead

Inspired by the example of the founder and president of the Nai Qala Association, the women of Sokhtagi have created a women’s council.

Impressed by the fact that an Afghan woman could lead a project in their area and inspired by the founder and president of the Nai Qala Association, women have decided to take their fate into their own hands.

During fall 2017, the women in the village of  Sokhtagi created the “Women’s Council Association”. This is the first council of this type not only in the village and in the district, but certainly also throughout the province of Bamyan.

The goal of a women’s council is to provide a forum for discussion where everyone can share their ideas in confidence. Women are aware that if they want to be able to participate in decisions, they must be clear and precise in their demands. Women’s health and literacy are part of the council’s priorities.

Creation of the council

A few months ago Momena, a fifty-something, illiterate mother of seven, grandmother and shepherd’s wife had the vision of creating a women’s council to answer their specific problems. This need to assemble women was based on the observation that a group has more weight than an isolated individual; with this idea in mind, Momena started to bring women together.

The President of the Nai Qala Association’s first visit to Sokhtagi was a trigger for Momena. She accompanied the President in each of the meetings with the community and was inspired by Taiba Rahim’s leadership and the tasks that were distributed to the community.

One of the tasks entrusted to the community was to prepare the ground for the construction of the school. Momena took it upon herself to go door to door, and collect money to rent the bulldozer that would allow the community to prepare the ground. Thanks to her persuasiveness, Momena was able to collect the financing on her own. This first success allowed her not only to gain the community’s recognition and the men’s respect but also to send a strong message to the women, so that they joined her in her project.

During Nai Qala President’s visit in December 2017, the women discussed the statutes and elected the committee members of the newly created association. Momena hired some students from Sokhtagi school as treasurer, spokesperson or secretary of the new council association.

A source of motivation

The construction of a school by the Nai Qala Association brings a village not only development opportunities for children but also strength and confidence to the community, especially for women.

Momena expressed gratitude to Taiba Rahim, President of the Nai Qala Association: “Thank you for bringing change to our village. Your presence among us, the way you speak to men means a lot to us. It encourages me to convince women to join.”

We have seen a greater participation of women in Nai Qala 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. This gives them more strength and self-confidence.

 

Thanks to Nai-Qala, girls can benefit from capacity-building course during the winter

For the duration of the winter capacity building course, some girls are living in host families’homes. 

In mid-December, Nai Qala teacher-trainers travelled to the village of Zeera Gag, where the Nai Qala Association built a school in 2015, to launch a new course of capacity building.

Nai Qala had already run this program in the village of Zeera Gag last winter, during the school holidays. It was meant for over 200 girls. But gradually the numbers of girls reduced every week; indeed,  many girls were living in the remote villages where there are high risks of snow avalanche and tough weather condition. All the girls who could not attend the course were very sad.

This summer, many determined parents who shared their daughters’ disappointment, approached families who live near the school of Zeera Gag. Many families agreed to have a girl live with them for a period of 3 months, the duration of the capacity building course. In return, these parents have agreed to give host families some wheat or cheese.

Just in the last few weeks before the start of the course, over 10 girls between age 16 and 18 were already living in their new houses, impatiently waiting for the Nai Qala teachers to arrive, and to benefit from the course.

For this year, the course is planned for 160 girls.

To know more on the capacity building project, click here.

Creating job opportunities

Nai Qala early childhood education program provides young local people with job opportunities 

Zewar graduated from the school in Nai Qala in 2012 and she studied at the university for four years. Now she is back in her village and she’s leading the early childhood education program for youngsters. Zewar is proud of her role and speaks with love and patience. She received special training in early childhood education with the support of Agha Khan Foundation in Kabul.

Zewar understands the importance of the early childhood education program to the children of her region. She and her colleague, who also went to university thanks to the education received in a Nai Qala school, know that children need more than just reading and writing.