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Girl power in Bamiyan

Zafar Bamyani
Female enrolment in schools in Bamiyan has surged in the last decade thanks mainly to Bamiyan's first female governor Habiba Sarobi. But with austerity cuts affecting the national education budget in 2015, local…
27.04.2015  |  Bamiyan
An adult literacy class in Bamiyan province. (Photos: Zafar Bamyani)
An adult literacy class in Bamiyan province. (Photos: Zafar Bamyani)

Razia had never stepped foot in a school or opened a book until she was 36. Now 41, the Bamiyan housewife is one of 5400 adult women who have enrolled in a pioneer literacy course since it launched in Bamiyan in 2010, according to the province's head of education Mohammad Ada.

“I have not been educated and this has always saddened me,” Razia told Afghanistan Today. She believes girls' education is a key prerequisite to end domestic violence, a view that has been spreading throughout the province.

Female enrolment in schools has surged in the last decade in Bamiyan as the security situation has steadily improved. Across the province's 346 schools, girls outnumber boys, according to local education officials. In the past, parents resisted sending their children to school, especially in far-flung districts such as Saighan, Kahmard and Waras. Analysts point to an increase in awareness among parents for the gradual change of attitudes as well as the positive influence of Habiba Sarobi, Bamiyan's first female governor from 2005-2013.

Sarobi's children

“Thirty years years ago in Bamiyan province, when the government would register children to enrol in schools, the fathers of the children would pay to get their children out of school,” says Arbab Rajab, chief administrator in the district of Waras. ”Now there is rarely anyone who would abide by that tradition or keep their daughters and sons from going to school.”

Most residents of Bamiyan are self-sufficient farmers who grow potatoes, wheat or barely. Others breed livestock such as cows, sheep or goats. Income per capita is low, even compared with other Afghan provinces, yet many families have started selling cattle and crops so that they can keep up “with the positive trend” of sending their children to school. “My husband is a day-to-day labourer and our income is way too low, but this will not cause my children to miss school,” says Sohila, a mother of five, who hopes her daughter will one day attend university.

Sohila's daughter Kamila, an 11th grader at Bamiyan Centre Girls School, says a healthy level of competition that has developed among schoolgirls in her class compensates for the lack of didactic quality. “There is a lack of comprehensive education opportunities in our school, but the competition with my classmates and with my neighbours prompts me to work harder and concentrate on my studies so that I finish with good grades and make my way to a higher education institution,” says Sohila, echoing her mother's plans for her.

High female turnout in Bamiyan

Girls now outnumber boys in Bamiyan schools.

The exponential increase in female enrolment in education in Bamiyan is one of several gender success stories in the province in the last decade. The governorship of Habiba Sarobi is widely credited with having strengthened the democratic participation of local women. “In the last two elections, Bamiyan had the highest provincial female turnout after Kabul,” says Ali Shah Musbeh, head of the Independent Election Commission (IEC) in Bamiyan province.

The local gender success story is threatened however by austerity cuts to the national education budget.

“The Bamiyan education department is facing a reduction of 60 percent budget for the year 2015,” says Mohammad Ata, head of the local education department, citing a reduction in international donor assistance as a reason. Ata says this means there is now a shortage of teachers at schools in the province.

Local residents have begun a campaign to fill the funding gap through civil society donations. Elders, religious leaders and NGOs have set up a program called 'Schools Assistance Box' to help the quality of education improve, to the delight of the Bamiyan education department. “The education sector could become self-sufficient so that the lack of schools in Bamiyan can be overcome by the assistance of the people,” says Mohammad Ata enthusiastically. The funds raised so far have been used for basic repairs in 110 schools - water faucets, doors, windows etc – as well as to provide children and teachers with books and the necessary materials to continue classes.

1800 classrooms housed in inadequate facilities

More than 1800 classrooms in Bamiyan do not have "adequate facilities," according to local education authorities.

Despite the goodwill, there is work to be done. The education department head says more than 1800 classrooms are housed in inadequate facilities. “Although tens of school units have been built, 132 schools still have no building and students are studying in the open-air, in rented houses, under the shadow of trees or in tents,” Ata told Afghanistan Today. He says the province's 136 higher education facilities, the 139 secondary schools and the 63 primary schools – more than 50 per cent of which are coeducational – have come under threat because of the budgetary cuts.

Nevertheless, the intervention of local residents to safeguard their children's education represents a definite shift in attitude from 10 years ago. “Families have realized that education is for both men and women, both layers of society can now get education for a better future,” says education activist Mohammad Amin Abtahaj. Sohila's daughter Kamila will be hoping for more of the same. “This way I can be of service to my family and the society as a whole,” she told Afghanistan Today.