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Group Sets Up Literacy Centers for Afghan Women - 2003-01-19

The International Organization for Migration is setting up a series of centers to teach Afghan women how to read and write and train them in employable skills. The project is part of a USAID-funded Afghanistan Transition Initiative that has been promoting community and infrastructure development since the beginning of last year.

The United Nations estimates 70 percent of all adults in Afghanistan are illiterate, and that most of them are women.

A spokesman for the International Organization for Migration, Chris Lom, said women who cannot read and write are destined to remain poor. He said a primary focus of the centers that are being developed is to help women become economically self-sufficient. "By giving them literacy and saleable skills, they will offer a way into the economic mainstream of Afghan life for women who were very much marginalized during the Taleban period," Mr. Lom said.

The program will build and equip 14 provincial women's centers in Afghanistan. The International Organization for Migration is working in close cooperation with the Afghan Ministry of Women' Affairs to implement it. The centers will be located throughout the country, in places such as Kunduz, Mazar-e-Sharif, Herat, Kandahar and Kabul.

The IOM's Chris Lom has said that once the women become literate, it will be possible to provide them with job skills, such as training in small business development. "It may be possible at some point to feed this sort of training into micro-credit schemes, which will allow women to start small businesses and other training, of course, in areas such as health, will also contribute to the well-being of Afghan women," Mr. Lom explained.

This project is an extension of work begun last year to rehabilitate the country's shattered social and economic structures. Officials say, the program has rebuilt 33 schools serving more than 35,000 girls in 11 provinces around the country. Another major project is the Intermediate Medical Institute in Mazar-e-Sharif. Mr. Lom says this is one of five Afghan institutes that provides training for 700 nurses, midwives, dentists, pharmacologists and lab technicians every year - all skills that are in desperately short supply throughout Afghanistan.