Suhaila Qadery, 24, is currently the youngest female teacher in Kabul University. © UNDP Afghanistan / Asma Halimi / 2019

 

Suhaila Qadery, 24, had a lifelong dream of studying in a top university in the West and getting a high-quality education. But as a young woman in Afghanistan, it was never going to be easy.

In Afghanistan, the education system is poorly developed – another victim of the decades of conflict which have ravaged the country. But for girls, getting an education is especially difficult. In many parts of the country, conservative attitudes persist, and families are often discouraged – sometimes with threats – from sending their daughters to school.

Suhaila studied hard and eventually she earned her bachelor’s degree in social science from Kabul University. Later, she was appointed as an assistant professor there. She is currently the youngest female teacher in Kabul University. She has published articles about women’s rights to change people’s perceptions of gender equality.

Suhaila’s next challenge was an exam to get onto a pre-masters postgraduate programme in gender studies hosted by the University of Iceland, which ranks among the top universities in the world. When she found out that UNDP provided a scholarship to this programme, she started preparing one year before the exam.

“It was a tough competition. The exam hall was full, and I was so nervous,” says Suhaila. “One of the biggest challenges is that there are many competent females applying for one place. I hope UNDP increases the number of scholarships, so more girls can benefit from this opportunity.”

The master’s programme in gender studies is a result of joint efforts by UNDP and Kabul University. Through the programme, UNDP facilitates exposure to international practices through partnerships with universities across the world. Staff and students from Kabul University have an opportunity to gain an international perspective by visiting and studying with the UN University Gender Equality Studies and Training Programme (UN-GEST) with the University of Iceland.

 

© UNDP Afghanistan / Asma Halimi / 2019
© UNDP Afghanistan / Asma Halimi / 2019
© UNDP Afghanistan / Asma Halimi / 2019

 

On the day she received the email from the programme inviting her an interview, she couldn’t control her tears of joy. But she still had to do an interview and written test, and then wait four months for a criminal record check. Finally, she was given the all clear - she was going to Iceland to study!

“After I had gone through all these procedures, I was ready to leave, and my relatives still questioned me: ‘Does your father know?’ ‘Are you allowed to go to a foreign country alone?” That was disappointing to me.

Among the highlights during the master’s programme was meeting the President of Iceland and giving a presentation on women in political, social and economic activities.

“I had an amazing experience. I didn’t expect to be able to talk about my visions, and experience to the president of a country where I was just a student.”

Suhaila met females from European and Middle-Eastern countries in this programme, which made her hopeful for the future, saying: “Afghanistan is not standing alone on gender issues. That gave me hope that I still can bring a positive change in gender equality.”

Now that she has completed her degree, Suhaila can apply for her dream job, which is teaching gender studies at Kabul University. Her message to parents in Afghanistan is: if you want your country to be peaceful and successful, let your sons and daughters get equal access to education and other opportunities.

This work is part of UNDP’s Enhancing Gender Equality and Mainstreaming in Afghanistan (EGEMA) project 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.

 

Fellows visit the President of Iceland. © UNU-GEST

  

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