Efforts in girls’ education in Tajikistan resulted in community mobilization and increased education opportunities
By Parvina Muhamedkhojaeva
Girls’ education is a considerable concern in Tajikistan where only 88% of girls complete their basic education.
Nimich, a mountainous village with approximately seven hundred households in Rasht district of Tajikistan, is an example of a village in which girls’ education opportunities were particularly limited.
“Indeed, girls usually face higher obstacles to education and removing these is the best way to advance education for all children. A few years ago, one could see mainly boys coming to our school. In particular girls’ enrolment rates in upper grades were low and dropout rates were high,” says Mr. Saidburhon Joniev, Director of School # 23 in Nimich.
Kids circled for joint playing at the yard of school #112, built by community mobilized funds in Nimich Village, Rasht district, Tajikistan, September 6, 2013
UNICEF has worked strategically at both the policy and local level to increase access to quality education for girls across Tajikistan. The Girls Education (GE) Package, an initiative supported by UNICEF and in cooperation with the Ministry of Education of Tajikistan and a local NGO “Oshtii Milli”, aims to reduce gender disparities in basic education and increase attendance and completion rates of girls. This work includes the implementation of the GE package in target schools covering grades 7-9 for female students. By building capacities of schools and district-level authorities and drawing together key stakeholders, this initiative contributes to creating child-friendly, gender-sensitive learning environments as well as boosting the demand for girls’ education.
‘Neither my father nor my community stopped me from going to school. It was my assumption and thought that since I am grown, my family needed my help and if I continued my education, our community, particularly male members, would not appreciate it,” says Shahnoza Mazorieva, a schoolgirl of 10th grade at School #23 in Nimich village.
In Nimich, an Education Support Committee (ESC) was formed, comprised of education authorities and local a local NGO, community and religious leaders, parents and teachers, entrepreneurs, including migrant workers, as well as school boys and girls.
“Earning the community’s trust was critical both in generating the dynamics required for the project to take root, and also to learn why a gender gap existed in specific settlements. Getting close to the communities by setting up the ESC led the project to mobilise community and religious leaders, to transform traditions and customs and to raise responsibility of teachers and parents to bringing girls back to school. Nowadays, parents in this village trust our project and respect every activity we organise. They allow their daughters to actively participate at district level activities and attend thematic summer camps. It never happened before,” states Ms. Dilafuz Safrova, Girls Education Project Facilitator from NGO “Oshtii Milli” in Rasht district.
Emerging from the advocacy and initiative of the Nimich ESC, the village invested in building a secondary school for all children, including girls. Members of the community contributed their labour, raised funds, and collectively worked together to ensure the completion of the school. The committee has further plans to establish a youth centre.
“We spare no efforts to discuss with parents that education matters for all and religion encourages rather that hinders girls to be educated. Now everyone in the community knows that if a girl goes to school she can get a better job and is more capable to help her family. We see our daughters playing chess with their male classmates, so they equally participate in activities organised both at the school and district levels and all they need is opportunities that we, as community should provide. Together, we can overcome challenges and break the barriers to girls' education, and provide educational and vocational opportunities for all girls and boys, and then their futures will be so much brighter,” says Mr. Mehrojiddin Asomiddinov, an Imam Khatib (religious leader) of the village.
In Nimich and other communities within the GE Package, girls like tenth grader Shahnoza are reaping the rewards of the transformation in understanding the importance of girls’ education within the community. In the secondary school in which Shahnoza studies alongside 170 girls, participation has increased, student performance has improved, and enrolment amongst girls equals that of their male counterparts.
Back to school girls, grades 9-10 together with their School Director, Saidburhon Joniev, at the yard of school #23, Nimich Village, Rasht district, September 6, 2013
“Today things have changed, and the people of our community can tell you why: because they are introduced to the GE Package and understand the value of educating their daughters. They value education, as a key to development, which lays the foundation for growth, transformation, innovation and equality in a society. In our school, now, half of the schoolchildren are girls; they can get admission to higher schools both at the district and central levels because they have support from their families. This year, two of our students got admission to the universities abroad which seeds more hopes to parents and their children,” informs Mr. Saidburhon Joniev.
Shahnoza is now attending school and moreover she stays for extra-curricular classes and joins the relevant school activities. “I witness my community not only supporting their daughters to go to school, but mobilizing funds and participating in construction of a new school. I have had a dream to learn some extra skills needed for our chores, now I wish to continue my education to become a police woman. Yes, an unusual profession for a female, but I have trust and support from my family to materialise my dream”, she shyly smiles, as a sign of pride for her family and community.
UNICEF and partners are working together to develop child-friendly, gender-sensitive learning environments in Tajikistan - working towards access to quality education for all children.