Conflict, safety concerns, poverty and lack of facilities are among the reasons given for stalled efforts to get girls into education.
Two-thirds of Afghan girls do not attend school due to growing insecurity and poverty, Human Rights Watch said today - underlining the challenges of educating women in the patriarchal country 16 years after the Taliban were ousted.
While millions more girls are receiving an education than during the Taliban's repressive 1996-2001 regime, progress has stalled in recent years, the rights group warned, with the proportion of female students falling in parts of the country.
About 85% of the 3.5 million children out of school are girls, the New York-based organisation said in a report based on research in four provinces and government data.
“The Taliban is near our house. If we go to school, they will kill us. If the government can provide security, we will be very interested to go to school.”
"Sixteen years after the US-led military intervention in Afghanistan ousted the Taliban, an estimated two-thirds of Afghan girls do not attend school," it said.
But the rights group warned the real situation was likely much worse because Afghanistan does not record children as being out of school until they have failed for three years to attend class.
"Overstated high numbers (for female attendance) have helped give the impression that there is a continued positive trajectory, when in fact numbers are actually decreasing in some parts of the country," the report said.
"The Afghan government and donors made bold promises in 2001 to get all girls into education, but insecurity, poverty and displacement are now driving many girls out of school," said Liesl Gerntholtz, women's rights director at Human Rights Watch.
Government statistics indicate that in some provinces, the percentage of students who are girls is as low as 15%, the report said.
Among the many barriers to female education are a lack of schools, female teachers and basic facilities such as toilets.
“We have 395 schools without buildings. This is a big challenge for female students because these schools don’t have a perimeter wall – they are open. In these areas, in most districts, people won’t send girls without a building and a perimeter wall.”
On top of that conflict has driven thousands of families from their homes and many school-age girls are forced to work to support loved ones.
In areas controlled by the Taliban girls receive limited or no education at all, while in contested zones girls trying to attend class face heightened security threats.
"The conflict has been accompanied by lawlessness, as militias and criminal gangs have proliferated, and girls face threats including sexual harassment, kidnapping, and acid attacks, as well as targeted attacks and threats against girls’ education," the report said.