Feb 25, 2011
Getting girls back into school is one of the rare Afghan success stories of the last nine years. But the progress made is in danger of slipping away. Despite a remarkable increase in school enrollment numbers from 5000 in 2001 to 2.4 million currently, girls still face many hurdles in pursuing their education.
There are now 2.4 million Afghan girls enrolled in school, compared to just 5,000 in 2001 – a 480-fold increase. While the numbers are encouraging, Afghan girls still face many barriers to receiving an education. The quality of education is highly variable, school conditions are often poor and nearly half a million girls who are enrolled do not regularly attend school. Oxfam is calling for renewed efforts by the Afghan government and international donors to keep girls in school and improve the quality of the education they receive. Here the girls and teachers explain their situation themselves:
Meena Amiri, 17, is a student in Mazar-e-Sharif, Balkh province, northern Afghanistan
“I always wanted to go to school but for a long time my father wouldn’t let me because he said we couldn’t afford it."
“But boys usually don’t have any problems. People treat girls and boys differently. The families don’t mind boys being educated but many have problems with girls going to school.”
Meena was just 14 when she and her two sisters had to drop out of school when her father lost his job. She still remembers how unhappy she was when she had to stay home for an entire year – while her brother continued to go to school.
“I was very upset. I cried all the time. I felt like I was in prison. I was a prisoner in a cage for over a year. I couldn’t breathe – my life seemed so limited.“
After a year, her father finally relented when the director of a local community center pleaded with him to let Meena return to school and offered to pay for the basic materials she needed.
“They said they would buy the pens and books to let me study. When my father brought me to the school himself I felt like a bird let loose. I felt free again. “
However, both her sisters decided not to return to school. Now, one goes to literacy courses occasionally at the local community center while the other is studying tailoring.
“I went back to school because I want to help my father support our family. I want to make sure my younger sisters don’t have to leave school because we can’t afford it, and I want to serve my country. But I can’t do that if I can’t read and write.”
Meena now wants to be a lawyer and help bring justice to Afghanistan – especially to its women. She strongly believes girls should be educated alongside boys.
“We are a country destroyed by war. People value boys’ education more than girls. But as human beings we all have the right to go to school. Families must change their attitudes. They must do the right thing – girls have the right to study and learn as boys do. And girls are even more important for the future of Afghanistan. It is us girls who will care for the home and country."
Nafeesa Ghyasi, 56, principal of Hashim-e Barat High School for Girls, Mazar-e-Sharif, northern Afghanistan. She has worked as a teacher for 32 years and as a principal for eight years.
“There are two main challenges here. One is the lack of security in this country. There aren’t many places which are peaceful where girls can go to school easily. Secondly, we don’t have enough schools, books, chairs, tables or professional teachers. These are the things that close the path to school for many girls in Afghanistan.
“For instance, in my school there are 16 classes that do not have classrooms. We don’t have specific departments for different subjects. We don’t have a conference room, laboratories, libraries, no kindergarten, nowhere for the girls to make some food. The classrooms that we do have are very crowded – there’s not enough space for everyone.
“When it gets cold, we have to move the girls who are being taught in tents inside. We put them in the offices where at least it is warmer.
“The war plays a part here too. If there is war in any corner of Afghanistan it makes me uncomfortable. The students too are badly affected by news of war. But we have an obligation for men and women to study. Historically, people in Afghanistan have always been interested in studying. But the conflict destroyed all the structures here. We’re trying to rebuild. We don’t want to be ignorant – ignorance leads to conflict.
“Two things need to change. One is that education ministry does not have the capacity to provide what we need like more schools or even books. Once they can address that then they can improve the quality of the education. The second is that security needs to improve: even in Mazar we live in constant fear.
“Things have improved a bit in the last few years. Teachers are now being paid regularly. But the international community could do more to help us. It shouldn’t matter where we live: there should be equal development. When you’re investing in one province, you should pay equal attention to others, even if they are peaceful.”
Amenah Pedram, 45, a mother of eight from Mazar-e-Sharif, has been a teacher for 26 years. For the last 10 years, she has taught history and geography at Nash Girls School.
“The biggest problem here that it is a mixed school. We have four thousand female students and not enough room for them. In the morning, both boys and girls come while in the afternoon it’s just girls. But it is difficult because many people are not open-minded and do not like the girls and boys being educated together. We need a separate school for the girls but right now we have no choice.
"Even so, many girls are taught in tents outside or in the open air. When it gets cold, we put several classes together into one room or teach them in the corridors. Because there is so little space, a lot of girls drop out. Those who stay in school are only in school for a few hours – it is not enough for a proper education.
"The entire system needs to change. The government must invest more in education – the entire society will benefit if our people are educated."