Women's Rights

Uzbek education programme seeks to create new opportunities for Afghan women

By Maksim Yeniseyev

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Female Afghan students study in Kazakhstan as part of an European Union programme in 2019–2020. [ALMA University]

TASHKENT -- Uzbekistan is helping empower women from neighbouring Afghanistan through an agricultural education programme aimed at boosting gender equality.

Uzbekistan's Ministry of Higher and Secondary Specialised Education, with the support of the European Union (EU) and the UN Development Programme (UNDP), will train young Afghan women in agriculture at the Termez Centre for Education in Afghanistan. Despite the name, the centre is situated in Termez, Uzbekistan.

This is a "cross-border initiative to support Afghan women's education in Uzbekistan", the UNDP said in a statement, adding that it "aims to provide educational opportunities for Afghan women, who face disproportionate barriers to education and employment" compared to Afghan men.

Uzbekistan will host 20 female students during the new academic year who will receive scholarships to study in the country.

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Female Afghan students study in Kazakhstan as part of an European Union programme in 2019–2020. [UNDP]

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Afghan students attending the Termez Centre visit Uzbekistan in 2019. [UzA]

Upon completing the programme, the students will receive a Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) certificate.

"Gender equality and empowerment of women and girls are not only fundamental human rights, but also a smart national strategy for the development and prosperity of the country," Matilda Dimovska, the UNDP resident representative in Uzbekistan, said in the statement.

The educational programme for Afghan women, which started last year, is set to run until 2025. The EU allocated €2 million to kick off the initiative.

The first stage of the project took place in Kazakhstan. Last October, a group of 30 Afghan women travelled there to study statistics, agriculture and the mining industry.

The Termez Centre for Education in Afghanistan opened in January 2018 and offers Afghan students specialised secondary and postsecondary education in Uzbek in 17 subject areas, including the Uzbek and English languages, physics and chemistry. The centre can accommodate as many as 300 students.

Historical ties

"The sizable Uzbek diaspora in northern Afghanistan lost its connection to Uzbeks in Uzbekistan more than a century ago. But in the past, all these people essentially lived within a single cultural space," said Tashkent political analyst Valeri Khan.

"If these two diasporas on both banks of the Amu Darya River again start to seek out each other's friendship and associate more closely, that will only benefit the overall peace process in the region," he added.

Uzbekistan's efforts to help its Afghan neighbours with gender issues are in line with the overarching regional ideas on achieving peace and advancing Afghanistan's development.

Following a June 30 online conference, the governments of the Central Asian countries and the United States, meeting as a body known as the C5+1, placed this issue among its top priorities.

"The Economic Working Group will also seek to improve the enabling environment for women in the economy and identify where the C5+1 can support women as agents of economic recovery and prosperity," said the first part of the joint statement issued by the body.

That same day, Zalmay Khalilzad, the US special representative on Afghanistan Reconciliation, conferred with Uzbek Foreign Minister Abdulaziz Kamilov in Tashkent, where Khalilzad emphasised the importance of the role of Uzbekistan in Afghanistan's recovery.

"The United States extolled the efforts of Uzbekistan's leadership to promote a regional approach in the peaceful resolution of the situation in Afghanistan and affirmed its own willingness to continue to actively co-operate in this area," the Uzbek Foreign Ministry said in a Telegram post.

In addition, a trilateral economic commission consisting of Uzbekistan, the United States and Afghanistan on July 23 agreed on initiatives for Afghan women.

During a videoconference, the parties agreed to work closely with a working group that seeks to expand economic empowerment for women, reported the Uzbek newspaper Pravda Vostoka.

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Thats nice, and surely a great opportunity for those girls. But what about the others? Afghanistan has more than 20 girls who want to study.

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