Afghanistan Making Great Strides In Womens' Higher Ed, But Significant Barriers Still Exist

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In October, with a $1 million grant from Carnegie Corporation, The Asia Foundation announced a new initiative, Carnegie Corporation Scholarships for Afghan Women. The project will run through March 2017 and will support 88 university scholarships at both public and private universities in Afghanistan; 78 Afghan women will enroll in undergraduate degree programs and 10 women university professors will enroll in advanced degree programs. Scholarship recipients will represent all geographic regions of Afghanistan.

This program is both timely and critical for the future of Afghanistan. When the Taliban regime fell in late 2001, Afghan women had one of the highest illiteracy rates in the world – only 10 percent of Afghan women could read and write.

Since then, Afghanistan has made great strides in girls’ education, but significant barriers to higher education still exist. This scholarship initiative will help close the gender gap in higher education and give Afghan women the chance to fully contribute to national development.

The scholarship program will be complemented by a $50,000 grant from Carnegie Corporation to the Foundation’s Books for Asia program, which will support library development efforts at select Afghan universities.

“In my view,” said Vartan Gregorian, president of Carnegie Corporation, “when you educate a woman you educate a whole generation. Women are the seeds of civilization so we are investing in Afghan women because advancing their education is an important milestone in Afghanistan’s growth and progress. Not only do they represent almost half their country’s population, their aspirations embody the great potential of Afghanistan’s future.”

The Asia Foundation has been at the forefront of empowering women in Asia for almost 60 years. In Afghanistan, girls’ and women’s education has been a key focus since the Foundation reopened its office in Kabul in January 2002. The Foundation recognizes that the future of Afghanistan depends heavily on the ability of young women and men to lead the country out of extreme poverty, illiteracy, ill-health, and instability—this ability is a direct product of education.