Educating to empower
Language, computer lessons prepare Afghan women for the job market
After years of conflict in Afghanistan, good jobs are scarce. That's especially true for women.
A joint U.S.-NATO program seeks to provide Afghan women with training and the opportunity to work supporting the Afghan National Defense Security Forces. The Gender Occupational Opportunity Development program, or GOOD, began in Kabul, Afghanistan on February 1, and is primarily run by Raytheon.
“I was fortunate enough to be born in a time and place where I was told I could do anything I wanted,” said Raytheon's Matia Wilson, chief administrator of the GOOD program. “That is a luxury that many women do not have.”
Wilson's program provides English language instruction and literacy training in Dari and Pashto. The goal is to allow the students to communicate with the Afghan Army and coalition forces more effectively. The classes also provide computer training targeted toward administrative work
Raytheon runs the program with about two dozen instructors. About 50 students are currently enrolled, and there will eventually be four locations for instruction.
According to UNESCO, female literacy levels in Afghanistan are, on average, 17 percent. That's due to a combination of factors, including: many women do not attend school; security challenges involved in traveling to classes; and sometimes, families do not approve of women attending classes.
Wilson, a Missouri native with a Master of Arts in teaching English as a second language, has lived and worked in Korea, Iraq and Laos. She said that she has seen first-hand how empowering education can be for women, increasing their social mobility and participation in the labor force.
“The women who attend the literacy courses will begin to make informed decisions for themselves and their families,” she said. “These courses will equip them with skills they need to become invaluable members of their military organizations, giving them greater flexibility to fill positions in the tashkil [the Afghan government’s open job listings].”
Wilson said that the courses build self-esteem, and the women take great pride in being able to help support their families and their country. She recounted the story of one student, a captain in the Afghan Air Force, who was soft-spoken and shy, but very eager to learn. Wilson saw her confidence grow as her skills improved.
“The Afghan Air Force women were having some problems so she organized them, eventually becoming their number-two spokesperson,” Wilson said. “She is respectful of authority, but not afraid to speak up for the rights of her fellow women. This program, I believe, will be truly life changing for so many.”
Raytheon conducts the Gender Occupational Opportunity Development program under the PEO STRI Warfighter FOCUS contract for the U.S. Army.