Coming of Age in Kandahar: An Unlikely Example of Girl Power
By: Kate Moran As the youngest of three daughters, girls’ empowerment has always been an important (if unspoken) issue. Important, because my parents wanted to ensure that their children knew and experienced the same freedoms as everyone else. Unspoken, because it didn’t have to be. Growing up in white, middle-class suburbia, my sisters and I stood with a world of opportunities at our fingertips. I suppose that’s how I ended up where I am today, pursuing a major of my choice at the university of my choosing. Once again, I find myself with a myriad of opportunities before me.
For thousands of girls across Afghanistan, however, the freedom to pursue an education is unthinkable. During Taliban rule, hundreds of schools were closed and girls’ enrollment fell from 32% to a deplorable 6.4%. And though the era of Taliban control is now past, the war on women endures. Despite being required by law to go to school, continued threats by Islamic extremists and other militants force many families who otherwise support female education to keep their daughters at home. And sadly, in many cases, it’s the families themselves who stand in the way. Death threats, acid attacks, and bombings make even the bravest reconsider the risks. In 2009, there was an average of 50 attacks on schools each month, with that number spiking to 250 during elections. Last year, more than 185 cases went undocumented, with many more resulting in deaths and disfigurement. Such attacks tend to have a ripple effect; where there is one, surrounding schools experience drops in attendance and some even close altogether. Social climate is only one of dozens of obstacles standing in the way of girls’ education. Other factors like poverty, insufficient resources, and transportation also play a key role. Infrastructure is outdated, funding is inadequate or nonexistent, and physical distance makes daily attendance virtually impossible.
Yet there is hope on the horizon. In Kandahar, one of Afghanistan’s deadliest provinces, brave women like Razia Jan are taking back the classroom. In 2008, in association with Razia's Ray of Hope Foundation, she opened Zabuli Education Center. Providing free education to more than 350 girls in rural villages, Razia Jan’s vision is transforming the lives and fates of Afghanistan’s most vulnerable and marginalized citizens. International agencies, like UNICEF and Save the Children, are also working to make girls’ empowerment part of the Afghan social discourse. As of 2008, there were 3,446 community–based schools in Afghanistan, with 1,393 more being planned for this year. The Back to School campaign, launched in 2002, has dramatically expanded female enrollment. From a mere 5,000 under the Taliban, 2.4 million girls now receive a primary education. In a country where just 6% of women 25 and older have received any formal education, these numbers reveal more than just progress. They are a testament to the determination and raw bravery of Afghanistan’s women and girls. They are a promise of better things to come, of a future where education is universally and unreservedly free to all.
So what can we do to ensure this right, not just in Afghanistan, but across the globe? First, we must acknowledge that inequality exists everywhere, even in our own neighborhoods and schools. Compassion is a necessary and desirable component, but so is intentionality. If we truly want to make education a universal concept, we must give of our time and talents to the cause. There must be an investment in girls, in their abilities, and in their potential. There must be recognition of the inherent rights and dignity of every human being, regardless of circumstance. The cliché but nonetheless true motto goes, “an investment in girls is an investment in the future.” If not us, then who? If not now, then when? It would be easy to take for granted how incredibly blessed I’ve been in my life. It would be easy to feel sorry for others, but never do anything about it. Don’t settle for what’s easiest or most comfortable. Take back the classrooms, and stand up for what should have always been a freedom in the first place.
Kate Moran is a sophomore at Emory University, majoring in Middle Eastern Studies and Arabic. Her academic interests include human rights issues, religious traditions in the Middle East, and international development policy. She hopes to one day pursue a career with UNICEF or the UN Refugee Agency
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