Religious Inter-school Competition Inspires Young Leaders
Kabul, Afghanistan: “I want to be the President of Afghanistan.” This is Zhania’s response when asked about her ambitions. Zhania Zainab is the top scorer among the students of her school and for the last three years has attended a madrassa (religious school).
She attended an interschool religious competition in Kabul on the theme of “Women’s Rights in Islam”, organized by the Ministry of Hajj and Religious Affairs and the Ministry of Women’s Affairs with assistance from UNDP’s Gender Equality Project.
Zhania already thought through her first actions if her dreams come true. “If I become the President, my first priority would be to work for the women of Afghanistan in order to provide education opportunities for them,” she says.
- Rising threats to women’s security in public spaces and obstacles to service delivery are an obstacle to implementation of the National Action Plan for the Women of Afghanistan.
- Gender equality and women’s rights will progress further if set within an Islamic framework.
- UNDP provided assistance to the Ministry of Hajj and Religious and Ministry of Women’s Affairs to implement the “Women’s Rights in Islam” competition through the publication and dissemination of a book containing 124 questions on the topic.
Unlike most children her age, Zhania belongs to a well-educated family. Her parents and four of her siblings received higher education, and serve their religion in different ways. One of her sisters is an instructor in the madrassa where Zhania studies.
Many Afghan families, however, are not like Zhania’s. In 2012, UNICEF estimated that half of all Afghan children of appropriate age do not go to school. The percentage is dramatically lower for girls. As a student in a madrassa, therefore, Zhania is an inspiration. She was able to pass on her learning to many of her friends and even managed to bring some of them to her madrassa and thus to the benefits of education. One of them is her best friend, Tabassum who attended with her the interschool religious competition.
Studies reveal that a leading cause for women’s limited access to their basic rights in Afghanistan is insecurity. According to a report by the Afghanistan Research and Evaluation Unit (AREU),“rising threats to women’s security in public spaces and obstacles to service delivery are an obstacle to implementation of the National Action Plan for the Women of Afghanistan”. The study also concludes that “gender equality and women’s rights will progress further if set within an Islamic framework”.
To help address this, UNDP actively supports initiatives that advocate for women’s rights amongst youth and religious leaders. In November 2013, a three-day workshop on women’s rights was held for madrassa teachers from all 34 provinces. In order to make this a two-way process of learning, it was followed up by raising awareness amongst madrassa students through interschool competitions, first held in Kabul, and followed by Balkh, Herat, Bamiyan and Nangarhar provinces.
UNDP provided assistance to the Ministry of Hajj and Religious and Ministry of Women’s Affairs to implement the “Women’s Rights in Islam” competition through the publication and dissemination of a book containing 124 questions on the topic. This was distributed to young madrassa students aged 10–30 in five provinces. In total, 1500 madrassa students participated in this programme, 300 from each of the five provinces.
One of the participants, Waris, a fifteen-year old boy from Kabul, says: “While preparing for this competition during the last month, I came to know about the distinction between the cultural practices and the actual religious laws imposed on women. This awareness allows me to know my religion and act based on it.
UNDP Gender Equality Project Manager Fulya Vekiloglu says: “Youth are not only tomorrow’s leaders, but also today’s inspiration who can replace the cultural practices leading to inequality and violence to those leading to equality and integrity.”
UNDP believes that although education is a long-term process, the best way to achieve results efficiently is to invest in youth. Inspiring young people like Zhania, Tabassum and Waris are already demonstrating the rewards of this approach.