Afghanistan’s community schools offer hope in remote impoverished areas

A community school operating in the open. (Photo courtesy: Ahmad Seiar/UNICEF)
Updated 13 February 2018
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Afghanistan’s community schools offer hope in remote impoverished areas

KABUL: The revival of education for girls in remote areas of Afghanistan, particularly as they were once barred from schooling by the Taliban regime, is a success story not only for the country, but for the world.
Conservative Afghan families were often unwilling to allow their daughters to leave the house to go to school, especially when that could involve a journey of many miles. So the Afghan Ministry of Education, along with UNICEF and other donors — who pay the teachers’ salaries and cover other expenses — created the “We Bring Schools to Your Homes” initiative for remote areas where there were no government-operated schools available.
“When you hold classes in people’s homes in a village, then there are no obstacles for people to send their girls [to school] and no excuse for others to block girls from acquiring education,” Kabir Akmal of the Afghan education ministry told Arab News.
Some villagers have set up makeshift classrooms in open areas, under trees, in small rooms in their homes, and even in mosques, to provide education to girls within their own village, Akmal added.
Last year, he said, 6,985 community-run classrooms were operating in 30 of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces. This year — Afghanistan’s academic year begins in March — that number will increase to 8,000, Akmal claimed.
“That is all because of the interest and eagerness of people who want to learn,” he said.
The teachers in these community-based classrooms receive higher salaries than those in official government schools, Akmal claimed. He added that their priority is to educate girls, as boys face few, or no, restrictions on travel.
“Community support has been critical to the success of community-based education, especially in conflict-affected areas,” Feridoon Aryan, a public affairs official in Kabul, told Arab News.
An estimated 3.5 million children, 75 percent of whom are girls, remain out-of-school in Afghanistan, Aryan said.
He added that a nationwide lack of infrastructure, educational materials and qualified female teachers are among the chief obstacles to improving school attendance and learning outcomes, but added that community-based education offered hope for the future.
“Recognizing the value of education, communities themselves provide locations for education centers — for example in homes or mosques — promote education and school attendance, especially for girls, and provide appropriate and safe spaces for learning,” he said.


Despite talk of equality, women bosses still rare in the US

We are going in the wrong direction, says equality advocate. (Shutterstock)
Updated 57 min 36 sec ago
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Despite talk of equality, women bosses still rare in the US

NEW YORK: This year was touted as the year of women in politics in the United States, but in the business world, female bosses remain few and far between.
And some warn the situation is unlikely to improve with men unwilling to play the role of mentor to younger female colleagues in the era of the #MeToo movement, which has heightened awareness of sexual abuse and inappropriate behavior in the workplace.
The departure in September of India’s Indra Nooyi as head of PepsiCo. after more than a decade in the job has only reinforced a trend that has been growing for the past two years: the decline in the number of women CEOs even as debate about the need for equality in the workplace rages, and amid increasing calls for women to break through the “glass ceiling.”
Recently, a number of prominent women have left their posts as company heads, including Denise Morrison of Campbell Soup, Margo Georgiadis of Mattel, Sherilyn McCoy of Avon, Meg Whitman of Hewlett-Packard, Ursula Burns of Xerox, and Ellen Kullman of Dupont.
All of them have been replaced by men, a blow for diversity since fewer than five percent of leaders of the S&P 500 largest enterprises are now women, down from 5.4 percent in 2017.
“We are going in the wrong direction,” said Lorraine Hariton, whose NGO Catalysts advocates for women in senior positions.
“Women have gotten into entry-level positions very successfully, and then they get to middle management, and things stall out,” she said. “Women still today are not reaching the top, particularly women of color.”
Dismissing the idea that the glass ceiling is down to women’s decision to focus on family rather than career, experts lay the blame more on deep-rooted cliches.
Hariton said her group’s research “shows that the stereotype that men ‘take charge’ and women ‘take care’ puts women leaders in a double bind and can potentially undermine their leadership and career and advancement options.”
“Women suffer ‘Goldilocks’ syndrome: they are judged as being too hard, too soft, and never just right for the job,” she said.
“Women are held to higher ethical standards and punished more harshly after ethical violations than are men,” said Vanderbilt University professor Jessica Kennedy.
“In short, women face higher standards and have more to prove than men do,” she said
Women who aim high in business often find they are not invited to important meetings or to after-work gatherings, both places where important connections are made, experts say.
This “culture of exclusion” may get even worse because of the #MeToo movement, because some men worry “that a compliment to their young mentee is likely to actually trigger accusations of sexual harassment,” said Kennedy.
“Nothing much happens without sponsorship,” said Hariton, noting that a mentor or sponsor shares vital contacts, gives advice and pushes for their protege’s advancement.
Even though the number of women in managerial positions has risen in the past decade, many are stuck in mid-level positions like head of human resources, or the legal or financial director of their company, according to Pew Research. Very few rise as high as chief operating officer, the launchpad to the CEO post.
On the other hand, researchers have found that it is not uncommon for a woman to be offered the helm of a company that is already in trouble, a “glass cliff” post she is more likely to accept in a bid to prove herself even if the chances of success are low.
Christy Glass, a professor at the University of Utah, said women are also seen as being better at breaking bad news than men.
She cited the case of Mary Barra, who was named head of General Motors in February 2014, several days before the car maker revealed that its faulty ignition switch was linked to 124 deaths.
Hariton said that to change the dynamic, more women are needed on companies’ boards of directors, which are responsible for appointing the head of a firm.
“Eighty percent of board seats at S&P 500 companies are primarily men,” said Hariton. “So the lens by which women are being evaluated is a white, male lens.”
A recent California law forces publicly listed companies based in the state to appoint at least one woman to their board by the end of 2019, and two or three by the end of 2021.
Kennedy said quotas had been made necessary because even though young men of the “millennial” generation — aged between 17 and 35 — were more supportive of sexual equality than their forebears, they also worry that it could impinge on their own career opportunities.
Some large US corporations, such as American Express, Best Buy and Ralph Lauren, have recently signed up to ParityPlegde, in which members pledge to look at least one female candidate when a job position opens up.