Last Sunday, students at Kabul University became the first in Afghanistan to graduate from a Master’s Degree Women’s and Gender Studies program. This two-year graduate program, introduced in October 2015, is the first of its kind in all of Afghanistan.
The M.A. program, which was designed with the United Nations Development Program’s technical guidance and financial support from the Republic of South Korea, has focused on decreasing Afghanistan’s reliance on foreign experts and the continuing emergence of women as decision makers, leaders of civil society movements, journalists and entrepreneurs.
Additionally, the twenty-two graduates of this program engaged in classes relating to “feminist theories, media, civil society and conflict resolution.” Both women and men have the opportunity to enroll in this program. The first graduates of the program are comprised of fifteen women and seven men.
Many of the graduates discussed their optimism for the future of Afghanistan. Sajia Sediqqi shared, “In a short period of time we cannot bring about any dramatic change, but with our higher education we can help change our society and serve our people, particularly our women.”
In past years, the success of this program would have seemed impossible. During the years of Taliban rule, girls were not allowed to attend school. As of 2015, however, there were an estimated 40,000 women enrolled in universities in Afghanistan
Currently Kabul University student body is over 20 percent women, Gawharshad Institute of Higher Education has 35 percent women students, and the American University of Afghanistan is also 35 percent women. Currently there are over 135 institutions of higher education in Afghanistan.
This graduating class from the gender and women’s studies program seeks to inspire others in Afghanistan to learn about issues relating to women’s studies, with the goal of empowering Afghan women. As another graduate, Mujtaba Arefi, stated, “This is the beginning of a change.”
A 2016 survey found that 74 percent of Afghan people agree that women should expand their roles and work outside of the home, a record high. In addition, a large majority of Afghans (80.7%) agree that women should have equal opportunities to men. But when women were asked to name the greatest challenge they face, 36.1 percent voiced concern over illiteracy and access to education.
Media Sources: Telesur 11/5/17, CNN 10/17/15, Feminist Majority Foundation 10/19/15, 6/16/16, 1/10/17