Afghanistan: Women’s Empowerment Centre

Women’s Empowerment and Education Centre, Kabul

Project established: 2011

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. Many come from sole parent families or from families where boys’ education is prioritised.

Since 2011 indigo foundation has partnered with the Women’s Empowerment Centre (WEC) at Gawharshad Institute of Higher Education (GIHE) in Kabul to support programs that enable financially and educationally disadvantaged Afghan women to access a quality education in law, political science and economics.

indigo foundation provided seed funding to the Women’s Empowerment Centre in 2011 and since then the Centre has gone from strength to strength.  Since 2011, 259 female students have received full tuition scholarships from the Women’s Empowerment Centre.

As well the scholarship program, indigo foundation has supported capacity-building initiatives for the Women’s Empowerment Centre, such as computer training for scholarship holders and advocacy for gender studies. 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.

GIHE was established in 2010 by Dr Sima Samar, Nobel Prize nominee and head of the Afghan Independent Human Rights commission.

We are in the process of exiting from our commitments with the Women’s Empowerment Centre as the Centre goes from strength to strength and now attracts significant funding from other sources. 

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 Co-Founder 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 in 2003 with a partnership between indigo foundation, members of the Hazara refugee community in Australia and the Borjegai community in the mountainous Hazarajhat region of Afghanistan.

In the thirteen years that followed, the Borjegai School Project assisted around 4,500 students (approximately 40% girls) through the construction of four school buildings and the provision of furniture, libraries, safe drinking water and hygiene facilities for a further six schools. The program has also purchased school textbooks and stationery, provided teacher-training and funded the salaries of professional teachers, especially female teachers. The program came full circle and was finalised in 2016 with the full agreement of the Borjegai community and the delivery of 2,500 textbooks across Borjegai schools.

The results speak for themselves:

  • High school graduates have increased from 0 to more than 550 students since 2003.
  • Students now have an overall success rate of over 75% in the annual National University Admission Exam (the ‘Kankor’ HSC exam), which is unheard of in a rural area of Afghanistan.
  • Around 350 students have graduated or are currently enrolled in public and private universities.
  • Many of the university graduates have returned to the village in the past three years. They work as school principals and teachers in Borjegai schools and surrounding areas.
  • All the current Borjegai teachers have at least Year 12 qualifications.
  • Borjegai schools have hired eighteen female teachers all of whom graduated from the local high schools.

Benefits have flowed beyond educational outcomes:

  • Increased community understanding and value for education such that the vast majority of families encourage and support their children to attend school and university.
  • Cultural change towards the education of girls. While there is still a long way to achieve full gender equity, significant improvements have been made. About 40 percent of the students in the village are girls, well above the national average for rural schools. In 2017, a network of professional workers from Borjegai are funding the salaries of female teachers, recognizing the important role this plays in getting more girls attending school.
  • Increased level of community cooperation and harmony as all three tribes of the Village – Maqsud, Mazid and Khasha – work collectively to take part in the school project and their children attend the schools together. The program has been a catalyst for peace building in the community. Our Project Advisor Ali Reza Yunespour credits the school program for this new period of cooperation.
  • Cultural shifts in Mullah’s attitudes from only supporting religious schooling towards greater understanding of the need of educating of children to be able to respond to the increasingly diverse needs of the community.
  • Enhanced capacity of the community to lobby the District and Provincial governments not only in matters related to their schools but also in health, security and legal services. Since 2007, the three tribes have successfully lobbied for a Medical Clinic in the Village

This commitment to primary and high school education flows into support for 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 from the first six years of the program are:

  • Fourth graduation ceremony for 394 students of the Institute, 36% of whom were female including 70 in law.
  • Total number of students at the Institute has increased to 2,497 of which 35% are female. Students come from 34 provinces across Afghanistan and are a mix of all religions and ethnicities.
  • The Centre’s scholarship program continues to flourish and has now been able to provide full tuition scholarships to 259 female students from different parts of Afghanistan.
  • Publication of a joint research project with University of Technology Sydney on views and attitudes of young Afghan women who have sought to enter higher education. ‘Education is as important to to life.’
  • The Gender Studies program at the Institute is developing as a sustainable model for women and gender studies in higher education across Afghanistan and is now offered as a diploma course.
  • Establishment of the Women’s Press Club at the Institute recognizes the need for Afghan women to tell their own stories. Female students are encouraged to produce articles on legal, political and social issues and send to media outlets.
  • WEC Director Nasima Rahmani was honoured as the Advance Australia 2015 Global Alumni of the year in recognition of her promotion of gender equality and education for Afghan women.

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).

Project Coordinator: Deborah Raphael

Australian Coordinating Committee: Libby Lloyd and Ros Strong