Adult literacy courses bring improvement to the overall low literacy rate in Afghanistan. Through the East-West Livelihood programme, the EU has supported self-help groups and local community literacy classes in Jalalabad and Herat, in the east and west of Afghanistan. Altogether 5,800 men and women became literate through this project that held 290 courses in over three years. Over two thirds of the participants were women.
“I was totally illiterate”, explains Gul Afshan. She attended classes two hours a day for nine months. She weaves carpets to earn an income for her family of four children. Now that she is able to read books, she is excited to realise what an impact reading and writing skills had on her life. Before joining the literacy classes, she did not know even know the basics. Her participation was only possible when the classes were held in her own neighbourhood.
“I became more confident and happier in the class”, she remarks afterwards. “I did raise my hand and contribute to the lessons.”
In provinces where literacy is low, it affects women’s participation in both elections and more generally in public life. The position of women in Afghanistan has vastly improved since 2001 and they are overall educated to a greater extent than before. However, literacy rates in Afghanistan are remarkably low, with the youth literacy rate at just over half of the young population. Just over a third of the adult population is literate, with worryingly low rates for women, whereby one in six is literate among adult women. In some regions that rate is as low as under two percent. Statistics are lacking, but show that both adult and youth literacy rates were largely stagnant in recent years.
Improved access to education, including for the most vulnerable segments of the population, is central to the EU’s human development goals for its aid to Afghanistan in the coming years.