Afghanistan: Women’s Empowerment Centre

WEC staged

Women’s Empowerment and Education Centre, Kabul

Project established: 2011

Over three decades of war and civil conflict have made it difficult for any young Afghan man or woman to obtain post-secondary education. However young women face a particular set of obstacles. Most still need to overcome educational disadvantage as well as significant financial and cultural barriers to access higher education and to graduate successfully.

Since 2011 indigo foundation has supported the Women’s Empowerment Centre (WEC) at Gawharshad Institute of Higher Education (GIHE) in Kabul.  WEC builds a supportive environment and provides opportunities to help young Afghan women complete a quality education in law, political science and economics. GIHE was established in 2010 by Dr Sima Samar, Nobel Prize nominee and head of the Afghan Independent Human Rights commission.

indigo foundation’s financial support has helped WEC increase the number of female students through establishment of a scholarship program to support the tuition fees of the many disadvantaged female students with potential wishing to enter GIHE. Many come from sole parent families or from families where boys’ education is prioritised.

Capacity building programs supported by indigo foundation have played a considerable role in promoting female students’ participation in academic life at GIHE. The success of the Centre’s gender training initiatives has secured German government funding for a Gender Studies Department within GIHE and a Peace Building Department has developed from training and workshops around Women, Peace and Conflict.

indigo foundation was able to offer timely support and confidence in the Women’s Empowerment Centre at an early stage of its development. Now with financial support from other organizations as well as indigo foundation the scholarship program has enabled 187 young women to access quality higher education. 25 young women graduated in January 2015 and 162 are continuing their studies on tuition scholarships. Many more await the same opportunity.

The peace scholarship I received from UN Women … completely changed my life. Now I want the same for young women in my country. I know how much a scholarship and opportunity to study will change their lives forever. It will give them freedom to get a job and freedom to have a future.

WEC Director Nasima Rahmani

background to the project

indigo foundation’s partnership with Gawharshad Institute for Higher Education (GIHE) in Kabul builds on our commitment to improve access to education for women and girls in Afghanistan.

The commitment started twelve years ago in partnership with Borjegai community in the mountainous Hazarajhat region and with Rotary to build educational opportunities for the area’s children. There are now nine schools in Borjegai and an increased community understanding of the value of girls’ education. Around 45% of the 4,000 children attending school are girls.

The commitment continues in support for GIHE to build the capacity of the Women’s Empowerment Centre to foster and promote women’s access and full participation in higher education. In a conservative society like Afghanistan where women face severe forms of violence educating young women at tertiary level ensures they are able to claim their rights in the face of social, political and cultural obstacles. It also boosts their participation in the labour force, an outcome greatly needed in Afghanistan.

our partner - Gawharshad Institute of Higher Education (GIHE)

GIHE is a non-profit coeducational tertiary institute established in 2010 to provide affordable quality education in law, political science, economics, and engineering disciplines essential to building a modern governance infrastructure in Afghanistan. It was founded by Dr Sima Samar, a prominent human rights activist, Nobel Prize nominee and current head of the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission. The current (June 2014) student enrolment of 2281 comes from all provinces in Afghanistan and is one of the most diverse student bodies in the country. 31% are female.

GIHE gives special priority to providing space and opportunity to female students and believes that by implementing positive gender discrimination policies within its own organization it can make a significant contribution to women’s empowerment in social, economic and political spheres in Afghanistan.


The Women’s Empowerment Centre has flourished since its establishment in 2010 under the strong leadership of its founding director Nasima Rahmani. Her commitment and determination to create opportunities for women to access tertiary education in a welcoming environment free of discrimination and sexual harassment is drawn from her own battle to finish her education. Galvanised by the opportunities afforded by a UNIFEM Peace scholarship to Australia Nasima’s approach has been to lead by example and show what can be achieved by implementing strongly and effectively. Her personal journey is an inspiration for female students now enrolling at GIHE.

Key achievements between 2011 and 2015 are:

  1. Successful implementation of comprehensive tuition scholarship program for financially and educationally disadvantaged female students. Has supported 25 girls to graduation with 162 current enrolments.
  2. Gender training initiatives by WEC secured German Embassy funding for Gender Studies Department within GIHE including translation of resource material into Dari.
  3. Peace Building Department developed from WEC training and workshops around Women Peace and Conflict.
  4. Free computer and English language courses for scholarship students.
  5. Cooperation agreement with University of Technology Sydney paves the way for much needed learning and development resources for students and staff.
  6. Nasima Rahmani awarded UTS Chancellor’s Award for Alumni excellence.
  7. Nasima Rahmani awarded Hamida Barmaki PhD scholarship for talented and committed law lecturers in Afghanistan.
  8. Establishment of Afghanistan branch of International Federation of University Women to build work opportunities and practical training workshops for women graduates.

latest updates and resources

  • Read this journal article by Nasima Rahmani with UTS academics Nina Burridge and Anne Maree Payne ‘Education is as important for me as water is to sustaining life”: perspectives on the higher education of women in Afghanistan”, which documents the views and attitudes of Afghan women who have sought to gain a higher education, within a context where only 5% of the Afghan population attends university, and less than 20% of university students are female
  • Find out more about WEC Director Nasima Rahmani in this article published by UTS to celebrate International Women’s Day Nasima Rahmani: Leading change in the lives of women in Afghanistan (March 2015)
  • Read about recent developments at Gawharshad Institute in its first newsletter (Autumn 2013).


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Project Coordinator: Deborah Raphael

Australian Coordinating Committee: Libby Lloyd and Ros Strong