For many girls in Afghanistan, gaining a secondary education is an achievement against all odds. But for those who do make it this far, there is still a considerable risk that their progress will be undermined by a lack of appropriate employment opportunities for them when they finish their studies.
To help them make the next step into meaningful employment, the Aga Khan Foundation (AKF) have been working with young women and their communities to find work close to their homes and to provide the necessary vocational training to support them to succeed.
Alim Dara village in Bamyan province is just one of many villages where AKF has been working with communities to find opportunities for their young women. With no secondary schools anywhere close by, many of the adolescent girls in the village had been forced to end their formal education after primary school. In 2018, AKF established a community-based education secondary class in the village which over 40 local girls attended. AKF spent time speaking with the students about the kind of work they would like to do after they graduated and what skills this would require. The majority of them requested cosmetology (beauty services) and tailoring, due not only to a genuine interest in such work but also because there was a demand for these services in the village: for weddings, brides and their bridal parties typically had to go outside of the village to have their hair and makeup done and to have clothes made.
AKF responded to this request by recruiting cosmetology and tailoring trainers for what would be a three-month course. Seventeen girls joined the cosmetology classes and eight attended the tailoring lessons. The girls were given training for three hours a day, six days a week. AKF then arranged to follow this with entrepreneurship training so the young women could learn how to set up, market and manage their small businesses in the community. Laila, one of the students, remarked:
“There are no beauty parlours in the village and we used to have to go to the district centre, but for the last three months, we’ve been practicing amongst ourselves and solving our own needs, as well as saving the money we would have spent at the beauty parlour. We are improving our skills and hope to open a centre in the village to earn more money and address the needs of our own community girls.”
Aisha, a cosmetology student, was also delighted with the opportunities the course had provided her.
“I was so interested to learn beautification skills outside the village, but because the classes were very far away, my father would not permit me to go and so I could not achieve my dream. I really felt hopeless, but AKF supported our village and in addition to continuing our basic education, I was able to attend the cosmetology course. Now I have the opportunity to achieve my dream – I feel so hopeful and I am really thankful for such a programme.”
One of the added benefits of even a short course like this one, is that it has allowed the girls to support their local economy, since otherwise the money for these services would have been spent outside the village. Moreover, it has helped these young women build their self-esteem and find ways to be financially independent, at the same time as allowing them to serve as role models for younger girls in the community. Not only the younger generation but the whole community can now see first-hand the opportunities that a good education for women and learning vocational skills can bring – informed women who can run their own businesses, support their local economies and inspire the next generation are key to breaking the cycle of poverty that has trapped so many for too long.
Steps Towards Afghan Girls’ Education Success (STAGES) is AKF’s largest girls’ education programme globally, which aims to remove the barriers to education faced by Afghan girls as well as connect them to employment opportunities. AKF is proud to work with a consortium of partners to implement this programme which includes CARE, Save the Children, Catholic Relief Services, Aga Khan Education Services, and the Afghan Education.
STAGES is funded with UKAID from the UK government.
This article was originally published on the Aga Khan Foundation UK website.