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Afghan schoolgirls peer out of the window of their class room in the old town of Kabul, Afghanistan, Sunday, April 7, 2013. Under the Taliban rule girls were banned from attending school, however during the past twelve years many girls have returned to school in Afghanistan.
(AP Photo/Credit: Anja Niedringhaus/AP)
Girls & Women

Millions of Afghan Girls Are Still Not Going to School: Report

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Children, particularly girls, in Afghanistan have been losing out on education for decades.

Today, 16 years after Taliban rule in Afghanistan was toppled, though 9.2 million Afghan children are enrolled in school, close to 3 million girls are still out of school, according to data an education ministry official shared with Human Rights Watch.

When the Taliban came to power in 1996, it took an education system that had already been damaged by years of conflict and made it even worse, according Human Right Watch. Taliban rule was especially devastating for girls and women, for whom education was almost completely prohibited.

Take Action: Ask Governments and Corporations to Support Girls' Education

In 2002, just a year after the Taliban rule ended, the US Agency for International Development estimates that just 1 million Afghan children — primarily boys — were in school. Now, after hundreds of million dollars in aid from foreign governments and international organizations were invested in girls’ education, nearly 3.6 million girls are in school — but the situation is still far from ideal.

According to a new Human Rights Watch report, just a little over half of Afghan girls ever attend school. And as girls get older, they are less likely to keep going to school with only a third of girls between 12 and 15 in school.

The rights group’s new report says the government of Afghanistan has not devoted enough of its budget, most of which comes from international donors and foreign aid, to rebuilding its education system and ensuring that girls have equal access to education, calling it “a project that is half finished at best, and crumbling.”

Social norms, poverty, and persistent violence and conflict are all factors that continue to keep Afghan girls out of school. And with increasing instability in the region that’s only expected to get worse over the next year, things don’t seem likely to change.

Read more: 13 Photos That Show What Life Is Really Like in Afghanistan

Families worry about sending their daughters to school in the midst of shootouts on the streets, bombings, and kidnappings — not to mention targeted attacks against girls’ education, Human Rights Watch says.

“It happened on the road right in front of the school,” one student whose classmates were victims of an acid attack told the rights organization. “Some students lost their eyes – their faces were burned…All the family decided no girls in our family will go to school…But for years I fought them and continued.”

But even the girls who risk their safety to go to school may not get the education they’d hoped for.

Many schools are overcrowded and face major resource constraints. According to Human Rights Watch, it is common for one school to have two or three shifts, in order to accommodate more students. While this enables more children to go to school, the trade-off is that students don’t spend enough time in class to be able to cover the full curriculum.

“By the time we walked to school, the school day would end,” a 15-year-old girl told the organization.

Forty-one percent of schools in the country still don’t have buildings, meaning that classes are held in tents outside, in the best case scenario. In the worst case, children cluster together wherever they can find shade or shelter.

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Human Rights Watch’s researchers visited schools where it was clear that cultural norms that value girls less than boys still persist. In one school featured in the report, 600 girls attended classes in a tent in the empty lot of a boy’s school compound. Though the compound has buildings, only boys attend classes in them. Girls are sometimes able to use the buildings when the boys are not having classes.

And in a country where 39.1% of the population lives below the national poverty line, according to the Asian Development Bank, many families cannot afford to pay for school supplies and uniforms, though school itself is technically free.

Read more: Why This Man Risks His Life to Educate Girls in Afghanistan

Afghanistan is also home to 1.2 million internally displaced persons, Amnesty International reports, who may not have the documentation they need to get their children enrolled in government schools.

Human Rights Watch spoke to families who fervently wanted their daughters to get an education but were afraid to send them to school because of the instability and dangers. 

“Men would disturb and threaten small girls,” a 16-year-old girl who has been out of school since she was 12 said. “The men would touch us and do other actions with us, so we left...No one tried to stop them – it happened to a lot of us. Lots of girls left school because of this – more than a hundred left. Kandahar people won’t allow their girls to go to school [anymore].”

Sixteen years after the US invaded Afghanistan on a campaign to stop terrorists and bring women’s rights to the middle east, millions of Afghan girls are not getting the education they were promised. As the Trump administration plans to increase the US military presence in Afghanistan, while simultaneously reducing foreign aid, it will effectively put more boots on the ground and fewer books in the hands of Afghan girls.

Global Citizen campaigns to support gender equality and access to education for all. Take action here.