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Afghan girls study at an open area, founded by Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee (BRAC), outside Jalalabad city, Afghanistan September 16, 2015.  REUTERS/Parwiz
Education Plus Development

To help ensure food and economic security in Afghanistan, invest in the skills of young women and girls

With the prevailing food security crisis in Afghanistan, the international community must invest in the significant potential of Afghan girls to increase their participation in formal agriculture education and cultivate the growth and prosperity of Afghanistan. Currently, more than half of the Afghan population is confronted by acute hunger due to continuing conflict, the COVID-19 pandemic, an economic collapse, and a severe drought.

Nangyalai Attal

2021 Echidna Global Scholar - Brookings Institution

Senior Policy Specialist - Technical and Vocational Education and Training Authority of Afghanistan

Founder - Hode

Additionally, with agricultural production accounting for 23 percent of Afghanistan’s gross domestic product, it is no surprise that the agriculture sector dominates discussions among policymakers for its potential to reduce poverty and stimulate job creation. Agriculture accounts for 22.8 percent of self-employment and family businesses and provides 45 percent of all jobs in the country. Realization of the potential of the agriculture sector could increase economic growth by 7.5 percent by 2024.

In urban areas, informal agriculture is highly dependent on female workers—mostly unpaid—and outside the cities, an estimated 70 percent of rural women are involved—directly or indirectly—in farming, managing small orchards and vegetable gardens, and tending cattle. The National Strategy on Women in Agriculture (2015–20) calls for the incorporation of women’s and girls’ skills into the formal sector; equipping them with relevant skills is critical to unlocking their potential and increasing agricultural production, and thus national growth.

However, girls’ participation in agricultural Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET)—even before the dramatic events of August 2021—has been very low, resulting in thwarted aspirations and a loss of human potential. Of the nearly 20,000 students enrolled in agriculture schools and institutes in 2019, only around 2,400—less than 12 percent—were girls.

Based on focus group discussions and interviews with more than 300 female agriculture students, teachers and faculty, as well as TVET directors and experts, I lay out the challenges girls and women pursuing agricultural TVET face and potential solutions to help overcome these challenges and navigate paths into the labor market. For the full details on this study, please see my recently published policy brief.

Key challenges to girls’ participation in formal agriculture education

1. Negative perceptions of agriculture as a second-class education

Agricultural TVET is often considered a second-class education, which can dissuade girls—and their families—from pursuing this field of study. This was found to be true not only for students and their families but also for teachers, provincial TVET directors, and public officials. Despite studying agriculture, more than 85 percent of Agriculture High School (AHS) students hoped to move into a different field of study after graduation. Indeed, 35 percent of the respondents studying in Agriculture Veterinary Institutes (AVIs) reported that girls’ lack of interest in agriculture was the principal cause of the low female enrollment in agricultural schools and institutes.

Family and relatives were the factor most frequently mentioned as discouraging girls from pursuing education in agriculture. Among the AHS students, 32 percent said that lack of parental permission was a barrier for them, and 24 percent that their families considered agriculture an unsuitable profession for girls.

2. Inhibitive education practices and policies

Concerns about the quality of agricultural education discouraged girls from showing interest in the field. Of the 139 AHSs and AVIs, only 12 have learning labs and farms. Half of the female AVI and AHS students interviewed for this study said that improving the quality of agricultural education should be the top priority for the newly autonomous TVET Authority in Afghanistan. They said it would increase girls’ participation.

3. Lack of women teachers

The TVET Authority has not recruited enough women teachers for agricultural TVET. Among AHS students, 24 percent considered the shortage of women teachers to be a critical factor in girls’ lack of interest in the topic, and 42 percent stated that hiring more women teachers would encourage families to increase girls’ enrollment in agricultural education.

4. Absence of viable career pathways to the world of work

About 25 percent of survey respondents said that lack of agricultural employment opportunities was a major reason family and relatives discouraged girls from pursuing agricultural education. Similarly, nearly 33 percent of provincial TVET directors believed that lack of career pathways made it hard for them to convince girls to enroll and stay in agricultural education.

Recommendations

Because of the high degree of uncertainty in the country, in the immediate term, Afghanistan and the international development community must ensure that the basic human rights of all students are met. Children must have food to eat, and girls must return to school—systematically—across the country. In addition, a focus on foundational literacy is required so that girls can benefit from formal technical and vocational training programs.

Given the unfolding food and economic security issues in Afghanistan, the world cannot turn its back on the needs and aspirations of the Afghan people—in particular—the women and girls.

Additionally, in the short term, the TVET Authority, with the support of national and international organizations, should:

  • Increase the number of female teachers in agriculture education through introducing a separate teacher recruitment guideline for women.
  • Listen to the concerns of students, teachers, parents, and other stakeholders and apply a comprehensive strategy to present agricultural TVET as a viable education choice and critical to economic growth.
  • Cultivate awareness of agricultural TVET as a means of economic opportunity for girls.
  • Create a sectorwide approach starting in secondary education to cultivate “angiza” i.e., a strong conscious self-motivation among girls and others.

In the long term, the TVET Authority with the support of national and international organizations, should:

  • Normalize girls’ participation in agricultural education through early strategic interventions at the elementary and secondary levels through content, stories, and curricula.
  • Regularly engage the community—working with parents’ committees and organizations for women—and facilitating site visits to women-owned farms and parent visits to schools and institutes.

Given the unfolding food and economic security issues in Afghanistan, the world cannot turn its back on the needs and aspirations of the Afghan people—in particular—the women and girls.

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