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Advancing Women's Higher Education in Afghanistan

by Lynn University

University students in Kabul listen to a lecture (Photo: UNDP Afghanistan)

During the COVID-19 pandemic, universities have sought to keep students engaged remotely and Lynn University, a UNAI member institution in the United States, has used its Social Impact Lab to empower students to continue contributing to their communities while studying away from campus.

Partnering with Women Forward International (WFI) and through its University Client-based Research and Implementation Lynn University became involved in a project with the Afghan Institute for Learning (AIL) to design a women’s only university curriculum in Afghanistan.

Lynn’s student team is made up of three students who are helping to develop a forward-thinking curriculum that will place Afghan women at the frontlines of change.

The student team works closely with a research team in Afghanistan comprised of doctoral candidates, all under the guidance of Dr. Sakena Yacoobi, long-time women’s rights activist and founder of the Afghan Institute of Learning. Their voice and expertise are fundamental in developing a holistic curriculum that will serve the everyday needs of Afghan women.

The students’ research takes into consideration the changing political, social and economic landscape of the country and looks at what the future holds for women’s personal and professional development. It aims to develop skills-based learning outcomes that will provide women the necessary knowledge to fill job vacancies across a variety of fields in Afghanistan. “We want to offer quality education that not only transforms but empowers women,” said Dr. Yacoobi. “The women that leave our university upon graduation will not only be able to immediately serve their community but also obtain employment in fields that will benefit them greatly,” she added.

Students are currently in the research phase compiling data on future jobs for women in Afghanistan, as well as information on existing curricula in Afghan universities. Once the research phase is complete, the students in the United States will be able to develop a creative, innovative and purposeful curriculum thanks to the partnership with the Afghan research team. Lynn University’s student team leader, Lima Sarhadi, is an Afghan woman herself and said that this is an important project because it “seeks to shift the cultural mindset and empower Afghan women through quality education.”

According to the concept program of the Higher Education Development Project in Afghanistan that is being carried out by the World Bank, in this country “the conflict and the ensuing political and cultural environment had a negative impact on higher education attainment among women. … Consequently, the female higher education enrollment rate in Afghanistan, which stands at only 1% of the age cohort, appears to be the lowest proportion among all countries.”

“The quantity of female graduates in the country needs to increase in the interests of gender equity and the empowerment of women,” the document adds. Dr. Antonella Regueiro, Social Impact Faculty Fellow at Lynn University, highlighted that this project “provides real-world and practical experiences for the students and they will be to say they have helped develop a women’s university in Afghanistan, something invaluable for them.”

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