Gender and Women's Studies at Kabul University: A Step Towards Addressing the Gender Gap

Kabul, 10 July 2016 – Afghanistan is one of the most challenging countries in the world to be a woman – and for a woman to get a decent education. According to World Bank data, net enrollment at the end of the Taliban regime in 2001 was 43% for boys but a miserable 3% for girls. Since 2002, school enrollment has skyrocketed, boosting the number of girls in secondary education from 3% to 36%, but access to higher education remains a challenge, especially in remote areas.

Gender inequality is very common in our country and gender studies are needed to deal with this.”  says Professor Ghulam Farooq Abdullah, Dean of the Faculty of Social Science at Kabul University.

In 2015, Kabul University and UNDP launched Afghanistan’s first-ever Master’s degree in Gender and Women’s Studies. UNDP also inaugurated a Gender Resources Center within the faculty, equipped with computers, books and research materials.

Highlights

  • Afghanistan is one of the most challenging countries in the world to be a woman – and for a woman to get a decent education.
  • On November 2015, Kabul University and UNDP launched Afghanistan’s first-ever Master’s degree in Gender and Women’s Studies, with support from the Republic of Korea.
  • The first cohort has a total of 28 students, with 18 women and 10 men.
  • Teaching women's studies at the graduate level will help support a future cadre of female policy makers and other leaders.

This two-year programme covers gender and women’s rights, such as legal protection and the role of women in poverty reduction, conflict resolution, civil society engagement and politics. Uniquely, the courses are tailored to the Afghan context and based on best practices in promoting gender equality in Islamic countries.

“I would like to apply what I learn within my own family first,” said Mujtaba Arifi, a student of the Master’s programme and assistant professor at Kabul University. “Since I also work in education, I can pass on what I learn to other students and make sure that gender rights are considered so that Afghan women can realize their rights and succeed in their goals.”

"This is teaching by Afghan experts and according to our reality and our society," said Nasrullah Stanekzai, a law professor and gender studies faculty member.

Rather than having to rely on outside experts, this programme will help produce a critical mass of gender equality advocates in Afghanistan; generate research on gender, violence against women and underprivileged groups; and raise awareness about men’s and women’s social responsibilities. Teaching women's studies at the graduate level will send people into the workforce who are equipped to promote gender equality.

PanjshirStudents of the Kabul University’s gender programme listen to a lecture and take notes at the class. Photo: UNDP / Omer / 2016

The first cohort has a total of 28 students, with 18 women and 10 men. “We hope this will serve as a model for other universities throughout the country,” says, Professor Ghulam Faroq.

The demand for enrollment is very high, particularly among women. To sustain the course, the faculty decided that the first batch of graduates should be young professors who hold only bachelor’s degrees and can potentially be recruited into the faculty once they finish their Master’s.

Wagma Yameen a student who is currently working with the United States Institute of Peace has bigger plans. She said, “I would also like to establish a center for gender studies in Afghanistan using the knowledge I gain from this course and perhaps recruit some of the graduates to work for the center”

 Nargis Afghanyaar, a student on the Gender and Women’s Studies Master’s Programme, takes notes in class. She said: “I chose the Master's Programme in Gender and Women’s Studies because it is a public need and because in Afghanistan women’s rights are often violated.” Photo: © Sayed Omer / UNDP / May 31, 2016

Professor Farooq acknowledges that without the support of UNDP and financial assistance from South Korea, it would be impossible to launch such a programme. But he is looking toward independence: “We would like to continue this programme with the usual support from UNDP but later would like to sustain it using our own budget and continue without international aid.”

Afghanistan’s first-ever Master’s programme on Gender and Women’s Studies is an example of how UNDP works with government, NGO and civil society partners to bring about gender mainstreaming and strengthen the position of women.

This work is part of UNDP’s Gender Equality Project II and is supported by the Republic of Korea. The project focuses on improving policies, boosting economic empowerment and ensuring access to justice and human rights.