Afghanistan one year later: Overshadowed and challenged

News and Press Release
Originally published
KABUL/GENEVA/NEW YORK, 19 March 2003 - Despite signs of progress over the last year, UNICEF today said Afghanistan is still grappling to rebuild its nation - with girls and women in particular jeopardy - and now the country is at risk of being ignored.
Preparing for millions of children to return to school next week in the country's second Back to School campaign, UNICEF said that one of the persisting threats to development is the number of girls who are out of school. Though one-third of the 3 million students who showed up for school in last year's campaign were girls, UNICEF said the enrolment of girls remains unacceptably low, particularly in primary schools.

Carol Bellamy, Executive Director of UNICEF, said the international community cannot avert its attention from or fail to invest in a country that is still struggling to help its most vulnerable populations. "Too few girls are in school and too many women are still dying unnecessarily. As long as Afghan girls and women are routinely denied access to education and to health care, our job in Afghanistan is far from over."

Bellamy said UNICEF has invested heavily in the area of girls' education because it is the foundation for lasting peace and development. "Education is the bedrock of any society. In Afghanistan, the education of girls and women is one of the single most imperative investments the country can make."

Following the historic success of the first Back to School campaign one year ago, UNICEF, together with the Ministry of Education, has made a series of investments to ready schools for another influx of students, putting extra effort into tackling the barriers that prevent Afghan girls from getting into and staying in school.

In the 2002 Back to School Campaign, backed then by the Afghan Interim Administration, UNICEF undertook its largest-ever logistical effort in support of education, delivering more than 7,000 tonnes of learning materials to virtually every school in the country. It was just one component in a massive campaign, led by the Interim Administration, to offer droves of children their first quality experience in a classroom.

This year, UNICEF is focused on renewing efforts to increase the rate of girls' enrolment and to reduce the risk of girls dropping or being pulled out of school. There is an added urgency: Afghanistan is one of 25 countries moving rapidly forward to increase the number of girls in school by 2005, through the UNICEF-led "25 by 2005" campaign.

While all priorities to improve the learning environment are common to both boys and girls, such as the need to repair damaged schools, other obstacles present particular difficulties for girls, such as the need for separate and decent sanitation facilities within schools. Less than 40 percent of Afghanistan's 7,000 schools have adequate sanitation facilities.

Over the last six weeks, in the lead up to the start of the new school term on March 24, UNICEF, supported by the Ministry of Education and other partners, has:

  • Distributed over 3,000 tonnes of school supplies throughout the country, part of UNICEF's effort to provide enough basic classroom material this year for over 50,000 teachers and 4 million primary school children.

  • Launched the first round of a nationwide teacher-training programme. During 2003, a total of 70,000 teachers will receive in-service training, including scores of female Afghan teachers who have been denied their right to practice their profession.

  • Produced the country's first literacy textbook for women, in partnership with the Ministry of Women's Affairs.
In addition, UNICEF aims to:
  • Rehabilitate 200 primary schools across Afghanistan in 2003. Thirty percent of the country's schools have been seriously damaged. In total, two-thirds are in need of some form of repairs.

  • Ensure that every primary school in Afghanistan has a clean water point by the end of 2003.

  • Provide sanitation facilities in 1,500 primary schools over the next 12 months.
Globally, of the 120 million children who are out of school, the vast majority are girls. Every year a girl is denied her right to a quality education increases the chances that she will be subject to violence, abuse, exploitation, trafficking, and also increases her susceptibility to disease, including HIV/AIDS.

In Afghanistan, this very same girl is more likely to risk her very life, as she matures into womanhood and becomes pregnant. Last year, a joint study by the Afghan Ministry of Health, UNICEF and the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention revealed that Afghanistan was among the worst places in the world to be a mother. One woman dies every half an hour in Afghanistan trying to give birth to a child.

Bellamy said the girls and women of Afghanistan have long been mired in the struggle for the education and empowerment that will lift them to their rightful place. "Afghanistan is steadying its legs. Out of the long and very shaky process we hope to emerge more and more Afghan girls and women who are educated, healthy and ready to take their country forward. But without immediate and sustained help this possibility remains distant."

For more information, please contact:

Edward Carwardine, UNICEF-Media, Kabul +93 (0) 702 74729
Chulho Hyun, UNICEF Kabul, + 873 761 924 995

About UNICEF's Girls' Education campaign:

UNICEF's '25 by 2005' campaign is a major initiative to eliminate gender disparities in primary and secondary education in 25 priority countries by the year 2005. The campaign, which includes fifteen countries in Africa and Asian countries such as Afghanistan and Bangladesh, focuses on countries where girls' education is in a critical situation and progress would make a real impact.

UNICEF will work closely with national governments and other partners to identify girls who are not in school. In each country, UNICEF will work with the government to mobilise new resources, build broad national consensus about the need to get girls to school, and help improve schools themselves to make them more welcoming to girls.

UNICEF has chosen a manageable number of countries and based its selection on criteria that looked for countries with one or more of the following: low enrolment rates for girls; gender gaps of more than 10% in primary education enrolment; countries with more than one million girls out of school; countries included on the Education For All Fast Track initiative; and countries hard hit by a range of crises that affect school opportunities for girls, such as HIV/AIDS and conflict.

For further information please contact:

Allison Hickling, UNICEF New York, (212) 326-7224,