Education for Girls: Afghanistan’s Invisible Battle

by Vins
Published: Updated:

Sixteen years of war in Afghanistan, initiated by the 2001 US invasion, have sparked many political, economic, and social debates, but minimal attention is being paid to the war’s effect on education. National security and financial concerns in the country take priority over the fact that two-thirds of Afghan girls do not attend school, according to an October 2017 report from Human Rights Watch.  Forty-one percent Afghanistan’s schools lack buildings, and many children live too far from the nearest school to be able to attend—a situation, the report noted, that particularly affects girls, who are “often kept at home due to harmful gender norms that do not value or permit their education.”

Although the US-led invasion in 2001 was partly framed as an effort to assist Afghanistan’s women and girls, Human Right Watch reported that “as security in the country has worsened, the progress that had been made toward the goal of getting all girls into school may be heading in reverse—a decline in girls’ education in Afghanistan.”

In 2016, 3.5 million of Afghanistan’s 12.5 million children were not in schools, and of this demographic three-quarters were female, according to an August 2017 report published by Theirworld, a children’s charity. The one-third of Afghan girls that are able to attend school go to schools in the poorest conditions.

A November 2017 Human Right Watch report by Heather Barr documents how war and, more generally, threats of violence drive girls out of school—not only in Afghanistan, but also in countries such as India, Iraq, Mali, Nigeria, Pakistan, Somalia, Syria, Uganda, and Yemen.

Despite a few notable exceptions—such as the story of Nobel Prize laureate Malala Yousafzai—the issue of girls’ education in Afghanistan has not received adequate coverage in the corporate media. One exception is a March 2016 story by CNN, which focused on Razia Jan, who opened a school for girls in Afghanistan in 2008. The story explains the struggles Jan underwent to open the school, and the many threats against the girls that attend the institution. The CNN report briefly touches the surface of the hardships faced everyday by girls who wish to receive an education in Afghanistan.


Heather Barr, Ahmad Shuja, Patricia Gossman, and Elin Martinez, “I Won’t Be a Doctor, and One Day You’ll Be Sick: Girls Access to Education in Afghanistan,” Human Rights Watch, October 17, 2017,

“Education in Afghanistan: A Battle to Beat the Odds and get all Children into School,” Theirworld, August 25, 2017,

Heather Barr, “War is Driving Girls Out of School,” Human Rights Watch, November 27, 2017,

Student Researchers: Melissa Garcia, Rachel Lomasney, Erin Stacevicz, Kerrin Thomas, and Rachel Tucker (University of Massachusetts Amherst)

Faculty Evaluator: Allison Butler (University of Massachusetts Amherst)