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(New York, June 13, 2018) – The World Bank, along with the Afghan government and its donors, should use its new education program to reverse the declining number of girls in school in Afghanistan, Human Rights Watch said on Tuesday in a letter to bank management. The anticipated US$300 million donor-funded World Bank project, Education Quality Reform in Afghanistan (EQRA), is to be submitted for approval to the World Bank’s executive board in the coming weeks.

A June 2018 UNICEF report found that up to 3.7 million children in Afghanistan – nearly half the children in the country – are out of school, and 60 percent of those are girls. In six of the country’s 34 provinces – Helmand, Kandahar, Paktika, Uruzgan, Wardak and Zabul – 15 percent or less of girls are in school. For the first time since 2002, UNICEF found, the number of Afghan children studying is falling.

“There’s an education crisis in Afghanistan right now – with girls most affected – and the world is looking away,” said Heather Barr, senior women’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch. “It’s intolerable that nearly 17 years after the Taliban government’s fall, the number of girls going to school in Afghanistan is falling.”

The UNICEF findings are consistent with an October 2017 Human Rights Watch report that found that while deteriorating security is a significant barrier to girls’ education, girls were at increasing risk of missing school due to other factors. These include decreases and changes in donor support, and discrimination against girls within the Afghan government’s school system.

In addition to reducing funding, donors in many cases are shifting their bilateral aid from supporting nongovernmental organization-run schools focused on serving girls, to pooled funding through the World Bank program that directly funds the Afghan government’s education system. While direct government aid can improve sustainability, this particular shift is likely to harm girls’ ability to attend school because the government has made education inaccessible to many girls, Human Rights Watch said.

The Afghan government has 5,260 boys’ schools but only 2,531 girls’ schools – more than two to one. Many families want their daughters to study but will only accept them being taught by a female teacher – and in half of Afghanistan’s provinces, 20 percent or fewer teachers are female. Neither boys nor girls should have to study at a school without a toilet, but it is much harder for girls, especially as they reach puberty and begin menstruation – and 60 percent of Afghan government schools have no toilets.

EQRA will become the third World Bank project to support education in Afghanistan since 2002. It will receive funding from the World Bank-administered Afghanistan Reconstruction Trust Fund (ARTF). As of April 2018, donors to the ARTF, by pledge size, were: the European Union/European Community, the United States, United Kingdom, Denmark, Canada, Australia, Italy, Finland, South Korea, Switzerland, Japan, and Poland.

To move forward, the EQRA project will require approval by the World Bank’s board, which consists of donor countries to the bank’s work. That gives board members the opportunity to ensure that the education project and its respective donor countries give priority to addressing the disproportionate barriers to girls’ education.

“Girls’ education in Afghanistan is at urgent risk unless donors use their funds to ensure that the Afghan government takes this problem seriously,” Barr said. “The World Bank’s US$300 million education project is their best chance to turn this crisis around.”

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