Afghanistan: Gains in girls’ education are at risk unless urgent action is taken

Media Releases article written on the 24 Feb 2011

With 2.4 million Afghan girls enrolled in school, compared to just 5,000 in 2001, progress in girls’ education is one of the rare Afghan success stories of the last nine years. This vital progress is now under threat 16 aid agencies including Oxfam and CARE warned today in a new report.

The report High Stakes found that gains in girls’ education are slipping away as a result of poverty, growing insecurity, a lack of trained teachers, neglect of post-primary education and poorly equipped schools. The findings are based on a survey of more than 1,600 girls, parents and teachers in 17 of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces.

While the 480-fold increase in girls enrolled in school is encouraging, Afghan girls still face many barriers to receiving an education. The agencies are calling for renewed efforts by the Afghan government and donors to keep girls in school and improve the quality of the education they receive.

“Afghan girls are hungry for an education: nearly two thirds of girls we spoke to said they want to complete university,” said Oxfam Australia Executive Director Andrew Hewett. “But the reality is the education system is facing its greatest challenge since 2001. We’re seeing a rollback of some of the recent gains made in getting young, motivated Afghan girls into school.”

Those interviewed said poverty was the single biggest obstacle to girls’ education and the main factor causing girls to drop out of school. More than 40 per cent of interviewees said girls had to leave school to help support their families, or because their families were too poor to pay for necessities such as transport or uniforms.

Girls in secondary and higher level education face the greatest challenges. While 1.9 million Afghan girls are enrolled in primary school, this drops to just over 400,000 girls in secondary school and just over 120,000 in high school. At age 18, just 18 per cent of girls are still in school compared to 42 per cent for boys.

Afghanistan suffers from one of the highest infant mortality rates in the world, yet studies estimate that infant mortality drops by 5 to 10 per cent for every extra year that girls stay in school.

Early or forced marriage and insecurity were other major obstacles to girls’ education with aid agencies warning that the intensifying conflict, which is spreading into previously secure areas in the centre, north and west of the country, is increasingly preventing girls from going to school. More than a third of those interviewed saw insecurity as a major obstacle.

“Educating women and girls is the single most important investment in the developing world,” says CARE Australia CEO Dr Julia Newton Howes.

“When educated, women are more likely to have healthy babies, to send their children to school and the health of their entire family improves. Donors and the Government of Afghanistan must give priority to keeping girls in school; the future of Afghanistan depends on it.”

For copies of the report click here. To interview Andrew Hewett or Dr Julia Newton-Howes please contact John Lindsay, Oxfam Australia Tel 03 9289 9413 or mob: 0425 701801 email: or Roslyn Boatman, CARE Australia, mob: 0419 567 777 email: