The struggle for higher education gender equity policy in Afghanistan: Obstacles, challenges and achievements


  • Fred M. Hayward University of Massachusetts, Amherst
  • Razia Karim University of Massachusetts, Amherst



gender equity, Afghanistan, inequities, exclusions, pervasive culture of male dominance, academic freedom, transformation, sexual harassment, admissions examination, violence against women, gender strategy


The struggle for gender equity in Afghanistan has been a long and difficult one under war conditions. Nonetheless, amazing progress has been made both in transforming higher education and in improving the situation for women students and women faculty members over the last few years. What is particularly striking about this effort is the level of success in a very challenging environment. Part of the success, as we suggest, is a consequence of the focus on gender policy in higher education, which operates in an amazingly free environment. That has allowed the kind of analysis and discussion of traditional views about women to be examined and new policies put in place moving toward the MoHE goal of gender equity. Higher education has moved from a situation of virtually no women students, faculty, or staff in 2001 to 28% women students and 14% women faculty members in 2017. The atmosphere for women has changed remarkably with a Higher Education Gender Strategy to continue the process of change and a range of other policies and actions designed to create an open, comfortable, and equal environment for women. What is striking about these changes is that we think their success is due in large part to the narrow focus of change on higher education – a process that probably would not have succeeded if tried at the national level. Nonetheless, it is a first step in expanding improved conditions for women broadly in Afghanistan and is suggestive of a successful approach for other countries with serious problems of gender discrimination.


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Author Biographies

Fred M. Hayward, University of Massachusetts, Amherst

Fred M. Hayward is a specialist on higher education with more than 25 years of experience as an educator, scholar, senior administrator and higher education consultant. He has a Ph.D. and Master’s from Princeton University and a B.A. from the University of California.  He has taught at the University of Ghana, Fourah Bay College in Sierra Leone, and the University of Wisconsin-Madison where he was Professor of Political Science, department chair, and Dean of International Programs. He was Executive Vice President of the Council on Higher Education Accreditation and Senior Associate for the American Council on Education for more than ten years. He has been a higher education consultant for the World Bank, Carnegie Corporation, Ford Foundation, Academy for Educational Development (AED), USAID, several ministries of education and universities focusing on higher education change, governance, strategic planning, and accreditation. Dr. Hayward has worked in Afghanistan on higher education starting in 2003 for AED, in 2005-2006 for the World Bank, and since January 2009 through 2016 as an advisor to the Ministry of Higher Education through the University of Massachusetts, Amherst and the University Support and Workforce Development Program. He has written extensively on development issues and higher education with more than sixty articles and five books including: Transformation of Higher Education in Afghanistan: Success Amidst Ongoing Struggles, (2015), Society for College and University Planning.

Razia Karim, University of Massachusetts, Amherst

Razia Karim, is a graduate student at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst and the recent recipient of a master’s degree (May 2017). She is a former Afghan employee of the USAID funded Higher Education Project based at the Ministry of Higher Education in Afghanistan where she worked as an Executive Assistant to the Deputy Minister for Academic Affairs from September 2012 –August 2014. She was born in 1988 in Kabul, Afghanistan amid the civil war—a particularly violent period in Kabul especially for women who were more vulnerable to the conflicts. Her father wanted to safeguard the family from the violent groups and to provide his children with an education so they moved to Islamabad, Pakistan and lived there as refugee around 12 years. She did her primary, secondary and high school in Pakistan in refugee school. In 2009, she attended Bakhtar University in Afghanistan where she received a bachelor’s degree in Business Management. While in college she also worked for the Ministry of Higher Education. Her experiences in the Office of Deputy Minister for Academic Affairs, added to her professional capabilities, gave her a deep understanding of the higher education change effort led by Deputy Minister M. O. Babury. Working for him increased her administrative and research competences and enabled her to maintain close contact with Afghan higher education institutions as well as international projects that support higher education in Afghanistan. That work encouraged her to pursue her graduate program in the field of higher education administration at the University of Massachusetts with a scholarship and assistantship they provided. Her master’s thesis focused on issues of gender equity in Afghanistan.  




How to Cite

Hayward, F. M., & Karim, R. (2019). The struggle for higher education gender equity policy in Afghanistan: Obstacles, challenges and achievements. Education Policy Analysis Archives, 27, 139.