Afghan Women Empowered by EU-UN Education Program in Kazakhstan

Joint venture between Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, the EU, and the UNDP includes over 150 young Afghan women in higher education programs. Recent high-level forum on the situation in Afghanistan was held in Almaty - hosted by Special Representative of the President of Kazakhstan for International Cooperation, Erzhan Kazykhan, with the participation of EU Special Representative for Afghanistan, Thomas Niklasson, and the Head of the UN Assitance Mission in Afghanistan, Deborah Lyons.

Afghan Women Empowered by EU-UN Education Program in Kazakhstan

After enduring the ravages of decades of war, 50 young women from Afghanistan have found an opportunity in the neighboring Central Asia country, Kazakhstan. This special project, financed by the EU and implemented by the UNDP, brings all together 155 young women from Afghanistan to study at Universities in Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. The project is expected to help create new business and employment opportunities for Afghan women and their communities back in Afghanistan.

The program aims at building resilience and promoting women’s academic, economic, and social empowerment in Afghanistan by enhancing their capabilities, employability, and future prospects through education and training. Indeed, by increasing women’s access to quality higher education, there is an overall focus on strengthening the economy and development in Afghanistan.

In the city of Almaty, Kazakhstan, the women are enjoying a whole new world of English and higher education courses at four diverse universities and academic institutions including the prestigious Almaty Management University (AlmaU). Some other students will study Agriculture at the Kazakh National Agrarian University in Almaty, others Marketing at the Kazakh-British Technical University, and other women will study Construction and Engineering at the Kazakh Leading Academy of Architecture and Civil Engineering (KazGASA) in Kazakhstan.

Afghan Women Empowered by EU-UN Education Program in Kazakhstan

The program is funded by the European Union (EU) with the support of the United Nations Development Program (UNDP). It is designed to prepare the students for further education and qualifications, as they are set to graduate by September 2022, and will proceed on to study career-specific degrees. At a cost of a few million Euros, the project entitled ‘Supporting the Economic Empowerment of Afghan Women through Education and Training in Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan’, began in June 2019 and will carry on through June 2025.

The participating 155 young women will be equipped with adequate employment skill sets. The women are also trained to systematically pursue job opportunities and negotiate with potential employers and clients in both the public and private sectors. During the project, young Afghan students expressed their hopes for the future. One student noted, “They are teaching us certain skills like academic English and Russian. I want to continue my education, get my masters degree.” Another added, “One day I want to teach international students, and I would like to have my own business,” while a third participant added, “I would like to return to my country, and do something for the community, for the people, for the young generation.”

Some of the Afghan students have been able to return home during their studies, however, due to ongoing instability in Afghanistan, others were unable to do so. Accordingly, with the approval of the EU and the UNDP, the project has been extended: a one-year post-educational orientation program was designed for the project graduates at Kazakh-British Technical University. Alongside their studies, the young women take part in cultural events and activities. In Almaty, they have had the opportunity to get to know their new surroundings through tours around the city. Following the success of the initial stage of the project, the second phase is set to more than double the intake and the budget.

An international high-level forum on the situation in Afghanistan was hosted in Almaty, Kazakhstan, on May 31st this year, by Deputy Chief of Staff of the President of Kazakhstan, Special Representative of the President for International Cooperation, Erzhan Kazyhan. The forum included the participation of the EU Special Representative for Afghanistan, Thomas Niklasson, together with the Head of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, Deborah Lyons. Also participated in the forum senior official representatives of Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan.

Afghan Women Empowered by EU-UN Education Program in Kazakhstan

Leading the EU delegation, Thomas Niklasson said, “Our engagement is to the Afghan people and we have scaled up the humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan. We also provide assistance to cover basic needs and livelihoods, in concrete terms that means we help with education, health, and entrepreneurs – many of them women – to help them develop their businesses.”

Niklasson noted that Kazakhstan was an important partner for the EU in the region: “Kazakhstan is a very important partner in the region, there are longstanding relations between Kazakhstan and Afghanistan, trade relations, cultural relations, and Kazakhstan has been generous and important in providing humanitarian assistance.”

The forum in Almaty was aimed at fostering an intra-regional discussion on regional security and promoting stability. At the heart of the discussions were the global concerns around the current security situation in Afghanistan. The leaders stressed the need to promote a pragmatic intraregional response by the European Union, The United Nations, and Central Asia states to prevent Afghanistan security’s further deterioration. Opening the meeting, Erzhan Kazykhan said that, “The events are challenging but they should not derail our strong commitment to Afghanistan and its people. Above all, we must prevent its sliding into instability.” He went on to quote the President of Kazakhstan, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, who stressed: “Eurasia has always been a dynamic region but concerted efforts must be made to keep it peaceful, open, and prosperous.”

The parties discussed in detail national contributions to humanitarian support for Afghanistan, and also considered proposals for joint implementation of bilateral and regional programs. As part of the forum, representatives visited the program at AlmaU university and met with some of the young Afghan women studying there, in order to empower them to return to Afghanistan and develop their own businesses and initiatives. The importance of continuing the educational program for Afghan students in Kazakhstan, as well as in Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan, was noted at the meeting.

One of the 23 years old Afghan students in AlmaU explained: “I feel so comfortable in Kazakhstan since I have come here. Aside from our academic studies, we went site-seeing around the city of Almaty and toured its surrounding mountains. Naturally, we also went shopping.”