(CNSNews.com) – The U.S. State Department is planning to build two women’s dormitories for universities in Afghanistan, at a cost of up to $15 million.
The State Department posted two solicitations for the construction of women’s dorms for Kabul University and Balkh University, last week.
In conjunction with the Afghan Ministry of Higher Education (MoHE) and the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, the American Consulate General in Frankfurt, Germany is issuing contracts to begin construction later this year, in “efforts to promote further education for women in the region.”
One dorm will house up to 400 female students at Kabul University, with an estimated cost between $1 million and $5 million.
The facility intends to include a cafeteria, gym, computer labs and a room for a “dorm mother,” according to the pre-solicitation notice posted on June 28. The dorm will also have a privacy wall surrounding the property and a security guard station.
Up to two four-story female dorms will also be built for Balkh University in Northern Afghanistan, and will house up to 800 students. The State Department estimates this project will cost between $5 million and $10 million.
At the end of this month, pre-proposal conferences will be held in Kabul and Balkh for the two projects.
The Frankfurt Consulate, the largest U.S. consular post in the world, is facilitating the contracts. The consulate will support the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan Ministry of Higher Education (MoHE).
Currently, only 0.5 percent of women in Afghanistan have professional ranks in teaching, and only two women hold positions as high as associate professors.
“In order to increase opportunities for women students, women will have priority in university housing with facilities providing adequate security for their well-being,” the MoHE says.
Violence is a concern in the Islamic Republic, according to the State Department’s most recent human rights report for Afghanistan.
“Violent attacks against schoolchildren, particularly girls, also hindered access to education,” the report says, and principals of girls’ schools were murdered in Balkh Province and Faryab Province.
“Violence impeded access to education in various sections of the country, particularly in areas controlled by the Taliban,” it says.
Even the Dean of Kabul University reportedly beat up a female student with a stick in 2011, breaking one of her hands.
Access to education is also an issue, as the State Department describes the status of girls and women in education as a matter of “grave concern.”
“Key obstacles to girls’ education included poverty, early and forced marriage, insecurity, lack of family support, lack of female teachers, and the long distance to school,” the report says.
“Cultural prohibitions on free travel and leaving the home unaccompanied” also impede women in the country.
In addition, the Ulama Council, a group of Muslim scholars, “issued statements that called for restrictions on women’s ability to participate in society.”
The new dorms are a continuation of a policy under the George W. Bush administration, which renovated a national women’s dormitory in Kabul in 2004. Former First Lady Laura Bush visited the facility in 2005.
In fact, the United States began building that dormitory in the 1970s but “civil unrest in Afghanistan and attacks years later from the Taliban delayed its completion until September 2004.”
The $12 million renovation was completed in 2009, and houses over 1,000 girls who attend medical school, the Afghan Education University, the Polytechnic Institute and Kabul University in Afghanistan.
Inquiries to the State Department for comment by CNSNews.com were not answered before this story was posted.