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girls' access to education in TurkeyTurkey has long boasted a prominent geographic position between Europe and Asia. It has been an important site for the exchange of goods and ideas for centuries. Its long history along major trade routes has created a unique culture that values expression and religion. Education has long suffered in this region but recent efforts have proven valuable in improving access to education, specifically girls’ access to education in Turkey. In order to understand how the country is handling inequalities, it is important to evaluate its education system as a whole.

The Turkish Education System

Turkey’s education system is monitored and regulated by the state. Its structure is very similar to the United State’s system, with an optional preschool enrollment before primary school (lasting four years), then a middle school level (another four years). The secondary portion of the education system has not always been mandatory, but since 2012, students have been required to complete schooling up through grade 12.

The overwhelmingly young population of the country continues to put pressure on education systems. One of the primary pressures facing the system is seeking out equal opportunities for Turkish students. Primary education and secondary education are the foundation for opportunity. With increases in access to education, students are graduating from the primary and secondary school systems and increasingly seeking higher education both at home and abroad.

Turkey is home to 166 universities and this number could be growing. Turkish universities have been enrolling refugees as well as attracting international students from countries in Europe and the Middle East.  There is an active effort to recruit international students to engage with the Turkish higher education system. Students have also been outgoing, seeking opportunities in the U.S., Germany and Canada. As Turkey has a relatively high unemployment rate for university graduates, foreign markets become increasingly appealing for ambitious students.

How Opportunity is Still Lacking

At the start of the twenty-first century, Turkey addressed its weaknesses with education through the Basic Education Programme. This encouraged enrollment and made at least eight years of education mandatory, which has since been increased to 12. Girls’ access to education benefitted the most from this strong regulation and standardization from the state. Enrollment rates increased and literacy improved, thus gender gaps in access to education are diminishing significantly.

The rural-urban divide tends to be a strong indicator of access to education. The Southeast portion of the country experiences a rate of illiteracy over 30 percent. The Ministry of Education (MONE) recognizes these disadvantages for rural and impoverished youth and has created programs and channels through which to increase access to education for disadvantaged youths.

Addressing Girls’ Access to Education in Turkey

One of MONE’s programs is the creation of 13 boarding schools, 11 of which were designed for young girls. By increasing access to school supplies, food, safe transportation and technology, MONE has assisted in narrowing the gap between urban and rural access.

Another organization addressing girls’ access to education in Turkey is Hey Girls, Let’s Go To School, a grassroots campaign powered by volunteers working in rural areas going door-to-door lobbying families on behalf of young women’s education. These volunteers talk with skeptical family members and are effective in addressing cultural concerns that weigh on the hearts and minds of the girls’ caretakers. Since the start of the program in 2003, the group has been successful in enrolling 20,000 young girls in the education system.

Girls of Hope is a documentary that highlights the challenges of girls’ access to education in Turkey. The lack of adequate resources and safe venues for education are one of the obstacles addressed in the film. Cultural standards and practices are further challenges for girls that most often prevent them from accessing education.

Turkey is aware of the shortcomings of its education system and has taken meaningful steps to improve access for all. Organizations focused on girls’ access to education in Turkey have helped the country progress and will continue to narrow the education gap between young boys and girls in the country.

– Madison Shea Lamanna
Photo: Google

Access to Health Services for Afghan WomenAfghanistan is one of the most dangerous countries in the world to be a woman. For decades, women in Afghanistan have endured overwhelming marginalization, discrimination and highly restricted access to education, healthcare and employment. Since the 1996 rise of the Taliban, a Sunni Islamic fundamentalist group, women and girls’ human rights have been severely violated.

Before the Taliban’s rise to power, women’s rights were gradually improving, despite high maternal and child mortality rates and a very low literacy rate for women. Before the 1996 takeover, Afghan women helped draft the 1964 Constitution, there were at least three women legislators in Parliament by the 1970s and a 1978 decree required education for girls. But as the Taliban insurgents gained control, those rights deteriorated and the nationalist group centered its campaign on terrorizing women.

During the Taliban’s rule, women and girls were forced into marriage and slavery, they had to be accompanied by a male relative in order to leave the house, they were banned from driving and only about three percent of girls received some sort of primary education. Additionally, the Taliban implemented heavy restrictions on access to health services for Afghan women, including a ban on receiving care from male health workers, which left many pregnant women without the aid of skilled doctors, nurses or midwives.

After five years of brutally sexist and misogynistic authority, the Taliban government was defeated in 2001 by U.S. and Northern Alliance forces. However, internal conflict and fighting between the Afghan government and Taliban forces is still a crisis as of today; thousands of civilian fatalities were reported in 2017. Once the Taliban fell from power in 2001, hope sparked for improved economic and social conditions, leading to a positive reemergence of women’s rights.

But, despite government attempts to devise and institute plans to empower Afghan women, inclusion for the women of Afghanistan still remains a challenge. According to a 2017 report, women and girls have continued to endure gender-based violence by state and non-state actors, there has been an increase in public punishments of women by armed groups and restricted access to girls’ education by armed groups has persisted.

However, women are striving to regain their role in society and present living conditions are gradually progressing. For example, as of recently, access to health services for Afghan women has increased. These improved services include a newly established health center and an increase in hiring female health workers in Daman district.

Daman district, located in central Kandahar Province, is known for having a lack of health facilities and female health professionals, which has led to increased maternal and infant mortality rates. Afghanistan as a whole has some of the highest infant and maternal mortality rates in the world, and pregnancy-related causes have taken the lives of thousands of Afghan women each year, although most of the causes are easily preventable.

However, since the establishment of the Azam Qala Basic Health Center in 2015, those rates have slightly decreased. Kandahar Province’s new health center is seeing more female patients and healthy deliveries, and as of March 29, 2018, there now are at least 20 childbirths at the center each month. Overall, the Azam Qala Health Center sees more than 70 patients a day and serves more than 13,000 people in the Daman district.

With great support from the System Enhancement for Health Action in Transition Program (SEHAT), the Azam Qala Basic Health Center was financed and provided with skillful female health professionals, and now access to health services for Afghan women is much improved. SEHAT’s objective is to expand the scope, quality and coverage of health services to Afghanistan, particularly for the most vulnerable. With continued efforts, women and girls’ rights in Afghanistan will continue to improve.

– Natalie Shaw

Photo: Wikimedia Commons