|© © UNICEF/HQ04-0001/ NOORANI|
Afghanistan has witnessed political instability and natural calamities during most of its modern history. The country’s economy and infrastructure virtually collapsed, affecting the lives of all people and all families. As a result of the Taliban’s extremist position prohibiting girls to attend formal schools and female teachers from working, the Gross Enrolment Rate (GER) for girls in 2000 dropped to nearly zero, the lowest in the world.
Following the fall of the Taliban regime, UNICEF supported the Ministry of Education to ensure rapid resumption and a continuation of learning opportunities for 4 million Afghan children with a special emphasis on girls' education. UNICEF has been working closely with families and communities to promote school as a centre for change by ensuring the education of children for their future development. One of the current program objectives is to increase the enrolment of girls by 1 million by 2005.
UNICEF’s approach is to work with Ministry of Education in launching a girls’ education campaign with a communication strategy towards behavior change for parents and families in Afghanistan. The approach addresses a set of interlinked and complex issues. These form the basis for formulating a relevant communication strategy, appropriate messages and identifying agents of change and vehicles for dissemination.
UNICEF supported the Ministry of Education by identifying a consulting firm specialized in communication & socialization to formulate a communication strategy in favor of girls’ education in Afghanistan. The behavior change communication strategy will focus on building demand for girls’ education by directing communication messages to parents, heads of families, community leaders, and provide a valuable benefit that is relevant to all of them.
The first step was to conceptualize and design a basic thematic message to target audiences, of which the main theme is: “I would feel proud to send my daughter to school and see her complete her education so that she has the opportunity to participate in the rebuilding of our country, with confidence.” The target audiences include the entire spectrum of stakeholders, including beneficiaries (fathers, mothers, and heads of families), influencers (teachers, religious and community leaders) and advocacy (policy makers, bureaucrats, Government officials and NGOs).
The second step was to conceptualize and create a communication channel – a “Caravan” to convey the message. The Caravan offers the capacity to carry messages that seek the involvement of all audiences, especially the involvement of parents. The Caravan itself becomes the propagator of education for girls, empowering families and communities to participate in building confidence amongst girls towards realization of self worth.
The campaign uses a number of tools to raise awareness and prompt behavioral change among parents; these tools range from advertisements on television, booklets for religious leaders on girls’ education promotion, radio spots, to informational materials to work hand-in-hand with women and mothers. Each tool is addressed to a specific audience in an effort to reach every single Afghan.
A national communication campaign for girls' education has started functioning from October 2003. It aims to provide parents, families, communities, and children, boys and girls alike, with information on the importance of education, schools and the support available for education of girl child.
Results from surveys reflected that the Net Enrolment Rate (NER) for girls in schools increased by 9% from 28% in 2002 to 37% in 2003. The follow-up campaign with Caravan concept will be launched by the end of 2004.
In 2003, UNICEF’s support to Afghan families and partner with the Ministry of Education yielded substantial achievements and recognition. Over 4 million students and 85,000 teachers returned to school with appropriate supplies. Forty-two schools were rehabilitated. An additional 360,000 girls were enrolled in schools by March 2003 and another 60,000 girls since September 2003.
The Afghanistan case is an example of UNICEF working with families, communities, Government organizations and NGOs to promote gender equality and girls’ education. It is also a successful example of UNICEF’s program communication and advocacy for social and behavior change.