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

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With the food security crisis prevailing in Afghanistan, the international community must invest in the considerable potential of Afghan girls to increase their participation in formal agricultural education and cultivate Afghanistan’s growth and prosperity. Currently, more than half of the Afghan population faces acute hunger due to continued conflict, the COVID-19 pandemic, economic collapse and severe drought.

Moreover, with agricultural production accounting for 23% of Afghanistan’s gross domestic product, it is no surprise that the agricultural sector dominates discussions among policy makers for its potential to reduce poverty and stimulate job creation. jobs. Agricultural accounts for 22.8% of self-employed and family businesses and provides 45% of all jobs in the country. Realizing the potential of the agricultural sector could increase economic growth by 7.5% by 2024.

In urban areas, informal agriculture heavily dependent on female labor – mostly unpaid – and outside cities it is estimated 70 percent of rural women are involved – directly or indirectly – in agriculture, the management of small orchards and vegetable gardens, and the raising of livestock. the National Strategy on Women in Agriculture (2015-2020) calls for the integration of the skills of women and girls into the formal sector; equipping them with the relevant skills is essential to unleash their potential and increase agricultural production, and therefore national growth.

However, girls’ participation in technical and vocational education and training (TVET) in agriculture – even before the dramatic events of August 2021 – has been very slow, resulting in thwarted aspirations and loss of human potential. Of nearly 20,000 students enrolled in agricultural schools and institutes in 2019, only around 2,400, or less than 12 percent, were girls.

Based on focus group discussions and interviews with over 300 female agriculture students, teachers and professors, as well as TVET directors and experts, I expose the challenges faced by girls and women who pursue agricultural TVET and potential solutions to help overcome these challenges and navigate. in the labor market. For more details on this study, please see my recently published policy brief.

Main challenges to girls’ participation in formal agricultural education

1. Negative perceptions of agriculture as second-class education

Agricultural TVET is often seen as a second-class education, which can deter girls – and their families – from pursuing this field of study. This proved true not only for students and their families, but also for teachers, provincial TVET directors and civil servants. Despite studying agriculture, more than 85% of agricultural high school (AHS) students hoped to move on to another field of study upon graduation. Indeed, 35 percent of respondents studying in agricultural veterinary institutes (AVI) indicated that girls’ lack of interest in agriculture was the main cause of the low enrollment of girls in agricultural schools and institutes.

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

2. Inhibitory educational practices and policies

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

3. Lack of female teachers

The TVET Authority has not recruited enough female teachers for agricultural TVET. Among AHS students, 24% viewed the shortage of female teachers as a critical factor in girls’ disinterest in the subject, and 42% said hiring more female teachers would encourage families to increase school enrollment for girls. girls in agricultural education.

4. Lack of viable career paths to the world of work

About 25 percent of survey respondents said lack of agricultural job opportunities was one of the main reasons family and relatives discouraged girls from pursuing agricultural education. Similarly, nearly 33% of provincial TVET directors believed that the lack of career paths made it difficult for them to convince girls to enroll and stay in agricultural education.

Recommendations

Due to 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 upheld. Children must have enough to eat and girls must go back to school – systematically – across the country. In addition, there is a need to focus on basic literacy so that girls can benefit from formal technical and vocational training programs.

Given the ongoing food and economic security challenges in Afghanistan, the world cannot turn its back on the needs and aspirations of the Afghan people, especially women and girls.

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

  • Increase the number of female teachers in agricultural education by introducing a separate teacher recruitment directive 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 essential for economic growth.
  • Raise awareness of agricultural TVET as a means of economic opportunity for girls.
  • Create a sector-based approach from secondary school to cultivateangiza” i.e.e., strong conscious self-motivation in 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 elementary and secondary levels through content, stories and curriculum.
  • Engage the community regularly – working with parents’ committees and women’s organizations – and facilitating site visits to women-owned farms and parent visits to schools and institutes.

Given the ongoing food and economic security challenges in Afghanistan, the world cannot turn its back on the needs and aspirations of the Afghan people, especially women and girls.

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