New scholarships for women students and academics

The chronic under-representation of women in higher education in Afghanistan – both among students and staff – is the focus of a US$1 million initiative announced last week that will offer university scholarships to academically qualified and financially disadvantaged women.

A total of 88 university scholarships will be provided, including 78 for female undergraduate students and 10 for women professors to enroll for an advanced degree, with the recipients representing all regions of Afghanistan.

The initiative was announced by The Asia Foundation on Thursday and is called the Carnegie Corporation Scholarships for Afghan Women. It is supported by a US$1 million grant and will run until March 2017.

In a statement on Thursday, The Asia Foundation also announced a US$50,000 grant to its Books for Asia programme from the Carnegie Corporation of New York, to support library development efforts at select Afghan universities.

The grant would enable Books for Asia to ship and distribute approximately 18,000 books throughout Afghanistan, contribute to special collections in subject areas key to the Carnegie scholarships for women, and conduct training to improve library public services.

“When the Taliban regime fell in late 2001, Afghan women had one of the highest illiteracy rates in the world – only 10% of Afghan women could read and write,” the statement said.

“Since then, Afghanistan has made great strides in enrolling girls in both primary and secondary school. However, women still face significant barriers in gaining a university or postgraduate education; women remain dramatically under-represented in institutions of higher learning, both as students and faculty members.”

The scholarship initiative would contribute to closing the gender gap in higher education, the statement said, and would “give Afghan women the chance to fully contribute to national development”.

David D Arnold, president of the San Francisco-based Asia Foundation, said the partnership highlighted the organisations’ “mutual understanding that educating a new generation of young Afghan women is the best investment we can possibly make toward the overall development of a peaceful and prosperous Afghanistan".

Among other Asia Foundation projects in Afghanistan have been establishing services at the first women’s dormitory at Kabul University and helping to set up the American University of Afghanistan, the statement said.