Rayana Fazli is the grants portfolio manager for education with the Aga Khan Foundation in Afghanistan, focusing on girls’ education, community-based education, pre-primary education, education systems, and public policy development. In March 2017, Rayana participated on a panel, co-hosted by UNICEF and the Government of Afghanistan, focusing on Afghan girls’ education and empowerment. The panel was part of the United Nations’ Commission on the Status of Women annual sessions. Below, she shares her reflections:
Education in Afghanistan: then and now
Afghanistan has seen a resurgence of achievements in regard to gender equality, women’s empowerment, and girls’ access to education since 2001. In 2015, 8.4 million students were enrolled in school, representing an eight-fold increase.
However, despite much progress, an estimated 3.5 million children are still out of school – 75% of whom are girls. The Government of Afghanistan has set ambitious goals in education and development to reach every child, including every girl. We are at a critical juncture for girl’s education in Afghanistan.
A Community-lead approach to education access
The Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN) has been supporting education efforts in Afghanistan for 15 years. The Network is engaged at all levels of education, from early childhood development through university. In Afghanistan, nearly 250,000 students and 7,000 teachers benefit from AKDN’s education activities. Additionally, AKDN works with the Ministry of Education to support the National Education Strategic Plan, paying special attention to female students and teachers.
Working alongside the Aga Khan Development Network, the Aga Khan Foundation has taken a community-led approach to eliminating barriers to girls’ education. Working with local leaders, parents, and other community members, specific roadblocks are identified (such as limited transportation, lack of female teachers, proper bathroom facilities) and solutions are developed together. The approach is based on trust and transparency between AKF and the communities we work with, laying the foundation for sustainable change.
The Girls Education Support Programme
One example of this approach is the Girls Education Support Programme (GESP), done in partnership with Global Affairs Canada (previously Canadian International Development Agency), which started in 2008. The main goal of the GESP is to increase girls’ access to education and create an encouraging environment to keep them in school, both at the community and school level. A big component of this project is the Flexible Response Fund. Since local needs vary from context to context, the fund is a mechanism to address an array of barriers preventing Afghan girls from entry and retention in upper grades. In 2015, it was recognised by the U.N. Girls’ Education Initiative as a best practice for removing barriers to girls’ education.
The Aga Khan Foundation created the Flexible Response Fund (FRF) mechanism for needs-based analysis, which included regular engagement and communication with the community, particularly influential community members, traditional leaders, and the local government to identify specific barriers and solutions. The open and transparent system ensured local buy-in and support, which was a key factor to the programme’s effectiveness and sustainability. The FRF has been used in a variety of ways including classroom rehabilitation projects to make schools safe and girl-friendly; incentives added to salaries for 70 female teachers to teach in remote communities, transportation for 229 female teachers so they can teach in girls’ schools and transportation for 743 female students so they can return to school.
In 2013, GESP study found remarkable progress towards adolescent girls’ access to education in GESP supported schools, including 142% increase in enrolment, 8% decrease in drop out, and 110% increase in graduation rates.
But the most unexpected outcome was how the programme empowered adolescent girls themselves. Around 500 girls were first-generation graduates who not only went on to completing their higher education, but then returned to their communities to teach at the schools they graduated from, enabling even more girls from their community and neighbouring communities to access their education. Additionally, we found that in several schools where there were no female teachers when GESP began, there were now more female teachers than male.
This flexible, local approach towards girls’ access to education empowered young women and the community to lead and take ownership of helping improve the status of women in their communities. The Girls Education Support Programme and Flexible Response Funds did not just offer a lump sum of cash, but built an inclusive, community-driven, sustainable approach to removing specific barriers to girls' education. It serves as a learning opportunity to understand what approaches can be used in Afghanistan, and elsewhere, to increase girls’ access to quality education.
Learn more about the Aga Khan Development Network’s work with girls’ education in Afghanistan here.