HERAT -- Literacy courses that have been offered in Herat Province since the fall of the Taliban in 2001 are providing opportunities for women who missed out on learning how to read and write.
More than 12,000 women are taking the classes throughout the province, according to the Herat Department of Education.
The goal of the education programme is to enhance the literacy level of women who could not attend school for various reasons, said Zekria Rahimi, director of the Herat Department of Education.
"More than 60 classes are being offered in three shifts in the city and in several districts to housewives and women who were deprived of going to school," he added.
"Women attend the literacy classes for nine months and then graduate to 'vital literacy' classes," Rahimi added. "First grade of 'vital literacy' class is equivalent to the fourth grade of school. Women can study up to the 12th grade in these classes."
Women are very interested in taking the literacy classes in Herat Province, said Shaima Sarwari, who is in charge of monitoring the programme at the Herat Department of Education.
Their families are very supportive and want family members who were deprived of schooling in the past to study, said Sarwari
"Most of the women in the literacy classes are between the ages of 30 and 60. Some women above the age of 18 who had been deprived of going to school are admitted to these classes," she added.
Women in the literacy classes are very talented and learn to read and write in less than three months, she added.
Fulfilling a long-held dream
Zeba Gul, 45, a second-grade-level student in the literacy programme in Injil District of Herat Province, said that she has been studying with her children since she started taking part in the initiative.
"I have been interested in school since my childhood, but there were no opportunities back then since we had to migrate to Iran to escape the war," she said. "When the literacy classes started in my village, I registered myself."
"My main goal is to complete grade 12 and then go to university and serve my country," she added.
"Being illiterate made me feel powerless. I would take the electricity and water bills to my neighbours so they could read them for me," said Zia Gul, 35, a first-grade student in the literacy programme in Herat city.
Zia Gul aspires to be able to read and write.
"There were no schools -- when I wanted to study, the Taliban were in power. And my family married me off at the age of 13," she said.
"I am very happy that this class has started. I am trying to become literate; I have always hoped to be able to read and write. I will achieve my dream with the help of this class," Zia Gul added.
"In the future, I want to help my children in their studies," she said.
Another woman recalled her lost opportunity for an education.
Naz Bibi, 35, a first-grade literacy programme student in Herat city, was forced to flee Afghanistan in childhood because of war. She could not go to school in her youth.
"I am very happy to have the opportunity to learn. I have learned reading and writing to some extent and can also help my kids in their studies," she added.
"We study with so much interest, and I will try to continue my studies in the future," she said.
Afghan women have worked hard to educate themselves and gain knowledge in the last two decades, yielding very good results, said Mahnaz Walizada, a women's rights activist in Herat city.
"There are literacy classes in villages and districts where middle-aged and elderly women study for a better future," she said. "In addition to young women, even older women are pro-education -- they love to be part of a progressive society and to contribute to a better Afghanistan."
Afghan women want the freedom to obtain education and to engage in political and social activities so that they can raise their voice and defend their rights, she added.
The government and the international community have made great strides in the past years in developing the education of women. As a result of these efforts, thousands of housewives in villages and districts are busy taking classes, said Suhaila Akbari, a student at Herat University.
"A great amount of domestic and international resources have gone into building schools and running literacy classes in Afghanistan, resulting in the development of good capacities among women," she added.
"Women who were not allowed to go out of their houses two decades ago now play decisive roles in the government, thanks to domestic and international efforts."
"Enhancing the literacy level of women, especially those who were deprived of going to school by war and restrictions in the past, is a positive transformation in their lives," she said. "The development of educational capacity of women leads to their empowerment."
Opening the doors of classrooms to housewives in villages and the city is a great change and a successful initiative for Afghan women, said Farishta Sarwari, a women's rights activist in Herat city.
"Women come to the literacy classes holding their babies in their arms to study and build a better future," she added. "This is a clear message to parties in the peace talks that Afghan women love education and that more opportunities must be provided to them."
Literate women can play an important role in the future of a better and brighter Afghanistan and keep their children away from war and violence, she said.