Higher education for girls in Afghanistan

To mark International Women’s Day we look at a higher education programme for girls in Afghanistan from Jesuitenmission in Germany.

Two out of three Afghan girls do not go to school, and only 37 percent of female teenagers in the country can read and write. The proportion of women among those who go onto higher education is equally low: just 19 percent across the country. The Jesuit Worldwide Learning (JWL) program provides communities in crisis areas worldwide with higher education at an international level. In rural Afghanistan, this programme has a real potential to bring about social change.

Hakima has spent most of her life in Daikundi province, in the mountains of central Afghanistan:

“When I was six, there was a school in our village where boys and girls studied together. That was very new and unusual.”

Against all the odds, she finally persuaded her parents to let her attend the school,

“Most people in my village thought that a girl must stay at home and marry young.”

In 2015, Hakima learned about the opportunity to learn English in Bamiyan, 300 kilometres away, she wanted to participate in the JWL program with friends from her village. While most families denied their daughters’ wish, Hakima’s father finally agreed. When JWL-students from Hakima’s area started teaching their friends at home, parents started to understand how important and useful education is to the next generation.

The JWL centre in Bamiyan: Here, a few years ago, the Taliban had razed the famous Buddha statues to the ground.

JWL provides people in war zones and regions of poverty across the world with high-quality university education. It is a joint project of renowned Jesuit universities, including the Regis University in Denver, Colorado, the Munich School of Philosophy and St. Xavier’s University in Calcutta. They set the curriculum, guarantee the highest academic quality and ensure that the JWL degrees are recognized worldwide. The most important resource required is the Internet. Equally irreplaceable is the ability to learn together in the Community Learning Centers (CLC).

More than half of the Afghan JWL students are female. Despite all reservations and cultural differences, the women and men study together.

The example of Hakima, who shares her new knowledge with her home community, underpins the “theory of change” by JWL founder and president Peter Balleis SJ:

“In almost all failed and volatile states the connection between the lack of education, flight, migration, gender inequality, extremism, poverty and environmental degradation is evident.”

This is exactly where JWL comes in and pursues a global forward strategy with local impact: higher education fights the root of the problems, not the symptoms. Currently over 3,000 students benefit from the JWL programs in Asia, Africa and the Middle East. JWL is currently examining the possibility of extending their programme to Cuba and Haiti in the near future. The planned number of students for the year 2020 is 10,000.
After completing her studies, Hakima went to Turkey and India via a program from the US Embassy in Kabul and took part in leadership courses. Her will to take her destiny into her own hands and take responsibility for herself and her community has the potential to help an entire country to its feet.