The following is a post by Robert Chatterton Dickson, Deputy Ambassador.
As a father of two teenage daughters, girls’ education is a subject close to my heart. That’s why I’ve found it particularly rewarding to have met a whole range of female Afghan students over the last couple of weeks.
A few days ago I went to the School of Leadership, Afghanistan (SOLA). SOLA is a non-profit organisation dedicated to furthering educational and leadership opportunities for the new generation of women at Afghanistan’s first all-girls boarding school. The students I met were impressive, and SOLA sends some of its pupils on scholarships to many of the best schools in the UK and US.
I was also struck by Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander’s challenging discussion with a class of Afghan school girls and the Afghan Education Minister during his recent visit. Their conversation was surprisingly far reaching and detailed. But what really impressed me was the students’ attitude. They were all confident, self-assured and ready to throw questions in English at two senior ministers. They didn’t accept initial responses and pushed until they got the answers they wanted.
Another highlight of this week was getting to meet and congratulate the new batch of Chevening scholars. Chevening is the UK Government’s global scholarship programme and has funded 145 Afghans to study in the UK since 1983. As ever, this year’s intake were an inspirational group: women and men heading to some of the best universities in the UK including Birmingham, Cambridge, Bradford and Southampton, and with a real passion for putting the knowledge and skills they will acquire to work when they return to Afghanistan. I look forward to meeting them again when they return.
The FCO and DFID reference a lot of statistics about education in Afghanistan. We often point to the fact that there are now two million girls in school when there were almost none under the Taliban. Or that DFID’s pledge of £47m to the Girls’ Education Challenge Fund will increase the number of marginalised girls in education by 250,000. Statistics are a great way of communicating what has been achieved in Afghanistan, but sometimes they don’t paint the full picture; sometimes they’re just numbers on a page.
The Afghan students and Chevening Scholars I’ve met recently show what those statistics really mean. These women weren’t deterred by the challenges they face and they didn’t think twice about pursuing high flying careers. More importantly though, none of them seemed to doubt their right to question, challenge or contribute.
Women and girls in Afghanistan continue to face huge challenges. It’s clear there are no short-term solutions or quick-fixes. But after my recent discussions, I’m much more confident that the progress that’s been achieved over the last twelve years is real, and, most importantly, sustainable.