Unlocking the potential of Afghan women

The path to economic empowerment for Afghan women remains riddled with discrimination, violence and unequal access to opportunities. The biggest hurdle in front of them are negative perceptions and stereotypes. A programme by UN Women provides skills training and internship opportunities to young women graduates to kick-start their careers.

Date: 17 August 2016

As part of her first visit to Afghanistan, UN Women Executive Director, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka took part in a graduation event with almost 50 young women who had gone through UN Women's internship programme. Photo: UNAMA/Fardin Waezi
As part of her first visit to Afghanistan, UN Women Executive Director, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka took part in a graduation event with almost 50 young women who had gone through UN Women's internship programme. Photo: UNAMA/Fardin Waezi

In a country where more than 60 per cent of the population is under 24 years and an estimated 400,000 people are entering the workforce each year, finding a job as a young graduate is not easy. When that country is Afghanistan and you are a woman, it’s even harder.

“In our tribe it was completely forbidden for women and girls to finish their education,” shared Massuma Rasuli, computer science graduate from Kabul University. “My teachers convinced my father to let me continue secondary education. He constantly reminded me that I should not expect to go to university. But I studied hard and convinced my father of my merit. Now that I have done it, other families are allowing their girls to finish school.”

Massuma Rasuli, pictured center, is one of the nearly 50 interns at the graduation event in Kabul with UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka.   Photo: UNAMA/Fardin Waezi
Massuma Rasuli, pictured center, is one of the nearly 50 interns at the graduation event in Kabul with UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka. Photo: UNAMA/Fardin Waezi

Women in Afghanistan are disproportionately affected by poverty, discrimination and exploitation. Today, nearly 64 percent of Afghans [1] agree that women should be allowed to work, however, women still face resistance, harassment and sometimes violence when trying to access education and employment. Even when they manage to get an education against all odds, they often lack practical skills, experience and networks to secure a job.

“The biggest problem is the negative perceptions and traditions against women that prevent them from going out, getting an education or work. I know many girls who could not pass these barriers because their fathers, brothers or husbands did not let them,” says Hassina Saifi, who graduated from the faculty of psychology in Kabul University.

L-R: UN Women Afghanistan Country Representative, Elzira Sagynbaeva, World Food Program Deputy Country Representative, Angelline Rudakubana, graduating intern Lida Sofiezada, and UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka. Photo: UNAMA/Fardin Waezi

L-R: UN Women Afghanistan Country Representative, Elzira Sagynbaeva, World Food Program Deputy Country Representative, Angelline Rudakubana, graduating intern Lida Sofiezada, and UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka. Photo: UNAMA/Fardin Waezi 

Ms. Rasuli and Ms. Saifi are among the 48 young women who have completed UN Women’s internship programme in Afghanistan. The six-month programme, which started in December 2015, as part of UN Women’s effort to support women’s economic empowerment, aims to support female university graduates seeking to enter the job market. The candidates receive two months of training in professional development, leadership skills, office management, language and communication, as well as application and interview skills. Then they are placed in a four-month internship with organizations in their chosen fields and receive a stipend from UN Women for their internship period.

The World Food Programme (WFP) offered internships to 12 of the programme participants and according to Deputy Country Representative Angelline Rudakubana, it has been a learning experience for the interns and also for her staff. “These women are proof that Afghanistan’s strength lies in the potential of its young women.”

The first batch of the participants are now finishing their internships and many of them have received employment offers. During her recent visit to Afghanistan, UN Women’s Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka met with the young women and stressed, “If we don’t invest in young people, we have no future. I think you are just what Afghanistan needs.”

Rohina Sharifi, a graduate of UN Women's internship programme. Photo: UNAMA/Fardin Waezi
Rohina Sharifi, a graduate of UN Women's internship programme. Photo: UNAMA/Fardin Waezi

For 22-year old Rayhan Alem, a native of Badakhsan Province in Afghanistan’s far northeast, the internship programme gave her the tools that she needed to fulfill her dream of becoming a skilled midwife. She graduated from the Midwifery Institute of Higher Education in Kabul in early 2015, but without any work experience, couldn’t find a job. After gaining communications and leadership skills, she was placed at the Ali Seena Hospital in Kabul as an intern.

“As soon as I complete my four months of practice at Ali Seena Hospital, I will go back to my province, Badkhshan, and I will work at the government clinic in my village, says Ms. Alem. She believes that with more skilled midwives, Afghanistan could beat its high maternal and child mortality rates.

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Notes

[1] Asia Foundation (2015) “Afghanistan in 2015: A Survey of the Afghan People”