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By the Numbers: Why Education is Critical to Afghanistan's Success
When the Taliban came to power in 1996, it strictly forbade female education and closed the majority of girls’ schools. Under the Islamic fundamentalist group’s control, girls’ enrollment plunged from 32 to 6.4 percent.
In the years immediately after the fall of the Taliban in 2001, education became a top priority for the Afghan government and received international support. As a result of a concentrated focus, primary school enrollment expanded nearly seven-fold, from 900,000 students in 2000 to 6.7 million in 2009.
For girls, the improvement was even more dramatic: enrollment increased from an estimated 5,000 under Taliban rule to 2.4 million. Some 120,000 Afghan girls have now graduated from secondary school, and 15,000 are enrolled in universities.
The Situation Today in Afghanistan
According to a 2012 UNICEF report, “the education level of women emerges as a reliable predictor of almost all [development] indicators” in Afghanistan. And the country is very young — fully 70 percent of the Afghan population is under 25 years old. So investments in girls’ — and boys’ — education will have a significant impact on the nation’s future health and economic stability.
Despite tremendous surges in school enrollment, only 55 percent of all primary school age children and 32 percent of secondary school age children attend school, with high disparities between urban and rural areas. Afghan girls attend school at lower rates than boys, and primary school completion rates for girls remain at only 13 percent.
In Afghanistan, a typical 14-year-old Afghan girl has already been forced to leave formal education and is at acute risk of mandated marriage and early motherhood. A full 76 percent of her countrywomen have never attended school. Only 12.6 percent can read.
Why Invest in Education for Girls?
Educating girls saves lives.
Societies where girls are married as children have high maternal death rates, but educated girls tend to delay marriage and have fewer children. When they do marry, they are less likely to die in pregnancy or childbirth, and more likely to have healthy children.
For mothers with a primary school education, the mortality of their children under five falls by nearly 50 percent, and for each additional year of schooling, infant mortality falls by an additional 10 percent.
Educating girls increases their lifetime incomes.
Girls who have one more year of education than the national average earn 10 to 20 percent higher wages; while girls with a secondary education get an 18 percent return in the form of future wages.
And women are more likely than men to reinvest their income in their families, spending 90 percent of earnings on their children compared to men’s 30 to 40 percent.
Educating girls and women encourages them to resist discrimination, vote, and participate in civil society.
In nations where girls go to school, corruption decreases and conditions that lead to violent extremism are reduced. In short, female education has a tremendous impact on a country’s wealth and stability. That’s why the World Bank’s 2012 World Development Report argues that investing in women and girls is “smart economics.”
Want more information about how to support women and girls in Afghanistan? Click here to learn about the Bush Institute's Afghan Women's Project.
Hannah Abney directs strategic communications and messaging for the George W. Bush Presidential Center, leading a team responsible for developing and implementing communication strategies that help advance the Bush Center’s work in developing leaders, fostering policy, and taking action to save and change lives.
Prior to joining the Bush Center, she led public relations activities for consumer and non-profit brands at The Richards Group. Abney also led communications efforts at a national retail trade association in Washington, DC, and served in the George W. Bush Administration in the Vice President’s Office.
A native of Milwaukee, WI, she is a graduate of the Southern Methodist University (B.A., Music) and lives in Dallas with her husband and young sons.Full Bio
What’s Happening in Afghanistan?
While there have been tremendous gains in Afghanistan, lack of security threatens these gains daily.
Q&A with Dr. Nilofar Ibrahimi, Member of Parliament, Afghanistan
Dr. Nilofar Ibrahimi is a member of the national assembly of Afghanistan. She represents Badakhshan province in the Wolesi Jirga (house of representatives). Her story is one of survival, pursuit of dreams, and dedication to women’s well-being and health. Here, Dr. Ibrahimi shares her thoughts on the current state of Afghan women’s empowerment, the challenges women face in achieving equal rights, and the impact women have on the country’s long-term peace, security, and prosperity.
In Case You Missed It: The Breadwinner, an animated film about the strength and resilience of Afghan women and girls, premieres in the U.S.
The Breadwinner, a new animated film from executive producer Angelina Jolie, tells the story of Parvana, an 11-year-old girl growing up under the Taliban in Afghanistan in 2001. When her father is wrongfully arrested, Parvana disguises herself as a boy in order to support her family. With dauntless perseverance, Parvana draws strength from the stories her father told her, and ultimately risks her life to discover if he is still alive. The Breadwinner is an inspiring reminder of the power of stories, and their potential to unite and heal us all. It also provides an important spotlight on the struggle endured by Afghan families during the Taliban regime and the resilience of women and girls and their influence in building a brighter future for Afghanistan. Last year, the Bush Institute released We Are Afghan Women: Voices of Hope, which spotlights more of these courageous stories of Afghan women. Learn more about the book and our work by visiting:&nb