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More information about RAWA's ongoing project in Afghanistan

Sent by RAWA in Quetta in 2000 and still relevant today

Literacy and Basic Health Training Courses for Women in Taliban Afghanistan

Even if the situation under the Talibans has changed, women's lives have not been transformed and they still live with the same restrictions. Even if underground teachers now will operate openly (depending on the area), the glaring injustices and lack of ressources remain intact.

Part 1: Background:
1a. The gender gap in education and the collapse of Afghan society
There has always been a wide gender gap in education in Afghanistan. However, two decades of war and the products of war in various forms of factions, political ideologies and religious zealous have widened the gap beyond all measure.

UNICEF has estimated that net primary school enrolment between 1992-97 was 36% among boys and 11% among girls. During the same period adult literacy rate is estimated at 44% for men and 14% for women. UNESCO estimates that secondary school enrolment during 1986-90 was 11% for men and only 6% for women, among the lowest in the world. UNICEF Chief Executive, Carol Bellamy (1998) agrees that there has been a wide gender gap in education in Afghanistan but it has recently been exacerbated and institutionalised. Ms. Bellamy is referring to the various Taliban edicts banning girls from attending schools and female teachers and other professionals from working.
Today, women, who make up 60% of the total population, have no access to education at all: baby girls born under the Talibans are likely to grow up being illiterate and boys will receive an extremely restrictive education where anything outside the most strict partial and limited Muslim education is totally forbidden. This includes learning of foreign languages (especially English) and access to world culture outside Afghanistan. The presence, in a generation’s time, of an uneducated, fanaticised and oppressed population, surviving solely on the heroin trade, in the heart of Asia poses a threat to the whole world.
This is why RAWA’s education projects, however modest, given the circumstances, are of great importance.

1. b : Women in Taliban Afghanistan
The trend in education in general and for women in particular is certainly in decline and no sign of improvement is in sight. In fact, banning all activities by women has been institutionalised. Today, there are no women present in the following fields: education, social activities, economic, health and the much-needed reconstruction of the country.This means that 60% of the Afghan population are barred from access to health, education and economic survival. Two decades of war have left more than 700,000 women widowed and perhaps as many households are headed by women. Current laws instituted by Talibans run against all logical and international norms and regulations such as the Convention on the Rights of Child (CRC) and the Convention on Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), which have been signed and endorsed by previous governments.
It is, therefore, a necessity to by-pass the institutional barriers, which has created a situation of ‘gender apartheid’ by excluding women from all social and economic activities. Provision of educational facilities at the grass-root level outside the institutional structure is a first and essential step towards saving the future of Afghan society in deprived areas.

1.c : Maternal and infant mortality
The effects of illiteracy and banning women from all social and economic activities have been taking its toll on women and children and thus the future of Afghanistan. The relationship between education, malnutrition, diseases, and mortality is obvious. UNICEF estimates that more than 50,000 women deaths have been related to childbirth during the 1980s, while figures for the 1990s are expected to be higher than the preceding decade. UNICEF further estimates that 4 to 5 million children have died of malnutrition and diseases during the past 15 years. The main diseases have been diarrhoea, measles and respiratory infections. It is estimated that the above- mentioned diseases, which could easily be controlled by simple preventive measures, have caused more than 279,000 yearly deaths of children under five years of age .
Women, it must be remembered, have no access to medical care of any kind as they may not be seen by male doctors. The few remaining female doctors and nurses are not allowed to practise, so women are left to fend for themselves. In view of rampant poverty, they are the ones who care for babies, children and the aged in their families and community, and therefore have to improvise on what information they have left or can still access. The discrepancies between the poor and what there remains of a middle class are further accentuated, and the consequences on public health are serious and certainly far worse than any return to barbaric Middle-Ages. For in ancient times, care of women was not prohibited, on the contrary, especially in Islamic societies which always viewed their womenfolk as keepers of society’s traditions as well as caretakers of future generations. Nowhere in the world have women been treated as criminals and outcasts, as is the case today in Afghanistan. On a more intimate level, this systematic abuse of women has instituted extreme sexual violence on every level, and rape victims are often punished by death for the sexual relations endured forcibly. From a historical and anthropological viewpoint, the Taliban attitude to women is unique in its kind and all the more threatening to women all over the world.

1.d : Women are forbidden to work
Another unique aspect is that women are not allowed any gainful activity, whereas in most societies, even the least evolved, women are at least present on the market place and play an important role even in the most primitive economies. This situation has reduced innumerable widows and their family to begging in the streets of every city. One-time secretaries, librarians, shop-assistants and interpreters alike are reduced to starvation on every street corner of Afghanistan Of late, some have turned to prostitution as a last resort, which does not appear to trouble the seemingly puritanical Talibans whose members do not hesitate to pay for sexual services.

2: RAWA’s Educational Programme
As part of its social activities, the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA), has conducted literacy courses to as a means to address some of the ills in the present and future Afghan society. The underlying principle is adherence to the indisputable fact that women are irreplaceable partners in development and building a prosperous and harmonious society. The basic and main goal of the project is to educate women so that they can educate the future of society, their children. The project also aims to provide some awareness on maternal, basic health and sanitation to women. Therefore, it is a two-fold activity at the grass-root level rising out of necessity and geared at deprived rural and urban areas. The structure and implementation approach of both activities is the same.

.2. a: Literacy Courses :
The programme which we are running aims to enable women in Afghanistan to read and write, thereby helping them to obtain, dispatch and locate sources of information. Since women are not allowed to venture out of their houses and attend a school and other means of institutional education, this project aims to provide education to women inside houses. The participants select a venue in a village or neighbourhood, where everyone willing to attend the course can do so with ease. The teacher and course material is then provided by RAWA under the literacy course project. Most of the teachers live in the course vicinity and in most cases are volunteers.

2. b: Basic health training :
Training and awareness raising activities are undertaken for vital issues relating to maternity, birth, child-care, preventable diseases and sanitation. It is believed that many deaths and fatal disability in mother and child can be prevented by simple means by making mothers aware of the dangers of certain practices and teaching simple hygenic measures to prevent accidents. In most cases the literacy course teachers impart information regarding sanitation and basic health care. However, trained health care professionals also contribute to this activity should availability of such personnel and security of the project site permit for their safe travel.

2. c : How the courses are run:
As was mentioned earlier, both courses are run in parallel by the same personnel and in the same site. The courses are demand driven and highly participatory. The participants organise themselves in a neighbourhood (urban) and/or a village (rural) and select one of the houses as a venue for course where everyone can attend. RAWA stays out of any selection process as we want to work as partners on an equal basis whose education we are asked to organize.
The teachers are normally from the same neighbourhood or village and RAWA prefers to hire educated women from the same area to participate in these activities. Should the teachers not be available in the vicinity of the course, teachers from other areas are sent for. Health care professionals, doctors and nurses, are usually not available in rural areas;. So we attempt to send medical professionals from urban areas are sent to some of the courses depending on security and their willingness to take such risks. This is obviously a serious problem.

Each course runs for 10 months, two hours and thirty minutes per day and six days per week. We give the graduates a certificate at the end of each course. And sometimes if we can afford it, we try to award small prizes to the more distinguished graduates.

Course Graduates:
All course graduates are encouraged to teach others in their family or neighbourhood. As soon as the course graduates agree to such undertakings, course material and extra training is provided under the project. They are also encouraged to participate in productive activities as well to earn on their own in order to become self-reliant. In this regard we especially urge the widows and those who have lost their male breadwinners.

3. Current Activities:

Table 1. provides information on current number of courses, students, teachers and supervisors in various parts of the country by province. The project operates as a grass-root activity in some areas of the six provinces in Afghanistan, namely Kabul, Balkh (Mazar-e-Sharif), Ningarhar (Jalalabad), Herat, Farah and Nimrooz.

THESE FACTS WERE VALID UNTIL THE EVENTS WHICH OCCURED ON AND AFTER SEPTEMBER 11th 2001 Nevertheless, the teaching programme will go on, as far as possible, inside the country and in refugee camps

3. a : Table 1.

Name of


No. of courses No. of students/class Total no. of students Total No. of teachers No. of supervisors
Herat 12 17 204 12 1
Farah 10 15 150 10 1
Nimrooz 6 15 90 6 1
Kabul 8 9 72 8 1
Mazar-e-Sharif 6 12 72 6 1
Jalalabad 5 15 75 5 1
663 47 6

There are written demands from women in various areas of seven other provinces namely, Kandahar, Helmand, Kundoz, Bamyan, Faryab, Laghman and Kunar. Unfortunately, lack of sponsors and funds have prevented the project taking off in other parts of the country.

3. b : One-Year Budget requirement:

Table 2. presents estimated budget for one year to undertake current programme, which is presented in table 1.

1$ = PRs.53
No Staff Number Monthly /person Total for all Annual
1 Teachers 47 Rs.1260
2 Supervisors 6 Rs. 1399
Rs 8395
Total 53
No. of students Price of notebook needed/year Price of Stationary needed/year Price of book needed/year Blackboard and chalks needed/year Total
663 Rs.57315 Rs.66830 Rs.5569 Rs.15679 Rs.145 394

Total expenses for one year:

Staff Salaries Students’ necessities Grand total
Rs811382 Rs.145 394 Rs.956 776

3.c : Problems facing RAWA’s Educational programme
Most of our teachers and supervisors are volunteers, as the economic and social crisis takes its toll, it is increasingly difficult for the teachers to commit to the project free of charge. We at RAWA can no longer afford to pay teachers, inspectors or even school supplies , which have so far been provided by contributions from members and sympathisers in and outside Afghanistan. In fact, severe lack of funds may cause us to terminate the programme altogether.

The volunteer teachers and RAWA have been very concerned about the financial problems of the local teachers, even though they have continued to teach without pay, for the time being. In its aim for independence and self-sufficiency, the course strategy also includes that the beneficiaries will pay for the courses as soon as their financial situation permits.
Neither danger nor lack of financial remuneration have discouraged these valiant teachers, as they are aware that the future of their country’s women and children are dependent on education. Nevertheless, this situation cannot continue without a minimum of ressources and we are desperate for sponsors and partners in this essential project.

5. How You Can Help
This project needs your urgent help and funding, we would gladly discuss a form of partnership where the financing is taken up by a sponsor. However we welcome individual sponsorship of teachers.
RAWA will provide the general supervision and evaluation tasks for the Literacy and Basic Health training project at hand. The main implementing partners are the women beneficiaries of the courses , while RAWA has the role of organisation, purchasing of teaching material and management of courses across the country.

At the same time, we do need all kind of supplies and if you can send material by air freight to Pakistan, we will gladly supply you with a list of educational and health needs. We guarantee that this will be distributed in Afghanistan via RAWA.