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Knowledge on Fire: Girls' Schools in Afghanistan Face Highest Risk of Violence

January 6, 2009


January 6, 2009 - "Stop teaching and running the girls' school, otherwise you will be slaughtered." That was the message sent to the Headmaster of a girls' school in Logar, just south of Kabul, when masked gunmen assaulted the Headmaster just outside of his house.


According to a new report by the Afghanistan Ministry of Education, CARE International, and the World Bank titled, “Knowledge on Fire: Attacks on Education in Afghanistan,” attacks on schools are increasing at an alarming rate. Girls are at particular risk of attacks aimed at keeping them out of school. The study suggests that a community-based approach to education can improve social acceptance of education and mitigate the risk of attack on Afghan schools, teachers and students – especially girls.

"Not a week goes by without an attack on schools, students or teachers in Afghanistan,” said Nick Krafft, World Bank Country Director for Afghanistan. “This study has come up with a set of important recommendations for attack mitigation and prevention that is very helpful both for the Afghan government as well as its international partners.”


According to the Ministry of Education (MoE) 670 attacks on the Afghan education system were carried out in 2008 alone, including arson and the murder of teachers and students. Between January 2006 and December 2008, 1153 attacks of different kinds were reported: grenade explosions, written or verbal threats to teachers, killings of students and education personnel. According to MoE, 230 people died as a result of attacks on schools, students and personnel between 2006 and 2007.

Of all attacked schools, girls’ schools account for 40%, mixed schools 32%, and boys’ schools make up for the rest. Girls’ schools, however, account for less than half the number of boys’ schools in the country.

Attacks on schools are not confined to a certain area of the country. In 2008, the hardest hit provinces were Kunar (95 attacks), Khost (91), Nangarhar (74), Helmand (72) and Kabul (72). The study also found that in some cases the location of a school along a highway where regular armed fighting takes place result in the school getting caught in the crossfire.

Attacks on schools and lack of security throughout the country have serious negative impacts on the education sector. At the beginning of 2009, 670 schools were closed across the country. In southern provinces, between 65-81% of schools are currently closed due to lack of security. This also causes more parents to keep their children home from school in fear of their safety.


“Girls’ education is clearly targeted more than boys,” said Jennifer Rowell, CARE Advocacy Coordinator. “The findings from this research indicate that the main perpetrators against the education of girls are the armed insurgency or internal community members. Attacks on schools can also occur due to their symbolic value as government entities, or because of their association with international military forces.”

As part of the study, a field study was carried out in order to analyze the nature of attacks and possible ways to mitigate risks. Data was collected in eight provinces: Logar, Khost, Kunar, Wardak, Ghazni, Herat, Balkh and Kapisa.

A total of 1,037 individual and group interviews were conducted among Ministry of Education officers, Ministry of Education provincial leaders, representatives from the NGO community, parents, police officers, school principals, members of local shuras (community councils), teachers at different levels, and students.

A total of 4,819 people were involved in the field exercise. Due to security concerns of the participants, the villages and schools visited were not revealed publicly.

The study recommends the following steps to reduce violence against students and educators:

  • Raising awareness about the value and importance of education at the community level
  • Engaging, supporting and training community leaders in risk reduction strategies
  • Identifying appropriate locations for new schools
  • Revising school policing policies for each community with the understanding that increased police or army presence can actually increase risk


The report says the involvement of the communities before the establishment of a school is important to reduce the threat of attacks. Schools seem to be less targeted where the community itself requested the school in the first place.

“Even though the study suggests a community-based education approach, several questions need to be answered, including who should be responsible for security,” said Joel Reyes, Senior Institutional Development Specialist at the World Bank. He added that school management committees (SMCs) which were established under the Bank-supported Education Quality Improvement Project (EQUIP) could take on an even greater role.

“SMCs can become guardians of their respective school security through a proper village-participatory mechanism,” said Joel Reyes. “Opening dialogue, closing grievances, justice and human rights can also be redirected to close the cycle and repercussions of violence after end of armed conflict.”