As International Women's Day draws near USQ spoke with Ismail Najeed who is working to increase learning opportunities and access for girls living in Afghanistan.
For many, a love and passion for learning can grow in the most unexpected of places. For USQ alumnus Ismail Najeeb (Master of Business Administration, Master of Project Management, 2014) that place was the refugee camp he grew up in during the Soviet Invasion of his home country, Afghanistan. Ismail credits his mother with instilling the value of education in him, though he admits it was not always an easy lesson to learn.
"For me, going to school was simply sitting under a tree in the refugee camp while the teacher stood in front and talked with us. It was my Mum who sent me to go to school everyday. Even though she wasn't educated herself, she knew the value of education. Some days she would not eat so she could cook me an egg so I had the energy to go to school. She pushed me to be present at school so much, that in the first eight years I did not have single day absent."
Ismail says his mother's sacrifices for, and dedication to, his learning continued when he chose to move to Australia to further his studies.
"My Mum would hate it whenever I had to leave and go away from her, but when I told her I was going to Australia for education, she agreed with her eyes full of tears. I know it is my Mum who made me what I am. As I cannot pay back anything she has done for me, I am trying at least to contribute something in the field of women's education and equality."
Ismail is the Human Resources Manager of the Education Quality Improvement Program (EQUIP) at the Ministry of Education for the World Bank Afghanistan. EQUIP is the biggest education program in the country with 1500 employees as a whole, 23 of which work with Ismail in Human Resources. EQUIP's objectives are to increase equitable access to basic, quality education, especially for girls, through school grants, teacher training and a strengthened institutional capacity that has support from local communities and private providers.
Since returning to Afghanistan after his graduation in 2014, Ismail has worked tirelessly to implement the EQUIP program - travelling to provinces, coordinating with donors and leading his dedicated team. Ismail says he is grateful for the education he received at USQ and has been able to apply the lessons he learned during his Masters of Project Management.
"We all have either a mother, a sister, a wife or a daughter at home and we need to do something for them. I, being a real example of what a woman can do, know it is vital to support and empower women. They have the capacity make things happen."
"In early 2014 while doing my studies at USQ, I was asked to represent the Human Resources Unit in a World Bank organised mission in Dubai. During the mission, the idea was discussed to increase female participation rates in schools and in the workplace. I took on the responsibility of this project and worked with the Gender Unit at the Ministry of Education and the World Bank. I was able to utilise the theories and skills that I learned including project planning, project scheduling, project stakeholder management, and implementation."
Thankfully, the results of his hard work are starting to show and EQUIP is steadily moving towards the goal given to the Ministry of Education by the World Bank - 30 per cent female employment in the education sector. In the first six month's of last year alone, female employment rates in education rose from 11 per cent to 17 per cent.
While these results are impressive and have been praised by a number of Afghanistan's provincial governors and education directors, the fact that gender main-streaming is still a cross-cutting issue in the country can be seen when Ismail talks about the reactions his work has received from the women in his life.
"Some are really positive and some are not. But I take all of the feedback in a positive sense and use it as motivating factors because I understand these feelings could be affected by the surrounding circumstances. My Mum is happy with my work."
Ismail hopes the EQUIP program will continue to keep bridging the education and employment gender gaps that exist in his country. He also believes the need for everyone to get involved in world-wide gender parity is paramount.
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