A society prospers when it invests in its citizens. This means it ensures that they are well educated, receive proper health care and nutrition, and most of all, recognized for their ability to accomplish whatever they set their minds to.
However, this is not always the case. There are many challenges that Afghan girls, who make up half their country’s population, face. Sometimes, too many. These girls have shouldered some of the worst burdens that society has put upon them.
Here are some sobering facts about Afghan girls and the future they face:
- In Afghanistan, girls are forbidden from attending school after the sixth grade. While it’s an option for Afghan girls to learn via the internet, only 18% of Afghans have access to it. That access also depends upon electricity, a utility that has proven to be anything but dependable, with frequent power cuts. Online learning also depends upon girls having computers. With many families too poor to afford one, access to education is further compromised.
- Basic rights have eroded for girls and women. Without the opportunity of receiving an education past the sixth grade, girls are expected to stay home, give up their dreams and marry early. Education formerly offered a hand up out of poverty and into prosperity. Women became teachers, entrepreneurs, doctors and more. Now, even going outside their homes without a close male relative is forbidden.
- Child marriage exploits Afghan young girls. Viewed as transactional, they are married to much older men. These girls become victims of domestic abuse and violence. Escaping these marriages often results in death. Additionally, child brides suffer from mental and physical health issues, are likely to be insufficiently educated, and cut off from their family and friends.
Some Afghan women are setting an example for their daughters, wherever and whenever they can. After twenty years of relative freedom, they will not give up their right to live full and equal lives. When merely existing seems as an act of defiance, these women demonstrate to their daughters that there will always be a way to survive, if not thrive. At risk of being discovered, they find ways to run businesses, provide health care and education.
On December 19, 2011, the United Nations General Assembly designated October 11 as the official observance of International Day of the Girl Child. Its mission is to inform the world about the urgent need for girls’ empowerment and gender equality. UN Secretary-General António Guterres stated that, “Women and girls can lead us to a fairer future…let us amplify girls’ voices, and recommit to working together to build a world where every girl can lead and thrive.”
International Day of the Girl Child gives us all an opportunity to reflect upon gender inequities in Afghanistan and what we all can do to change their destinies. On this and every October 11, we should all make it a point to tell not only Afghan girls, but all girls, in every city, town and country, throughout the world, that they matter. That they’re important. That there’s no limit to their imaginations and abilities. We should do everything in our power to give them what they so rightfully deserve – the right to live an equal, independent and prosperous life.
Blog written by Gretchen Weerheim, Women for Afghan Women
Photo of girls under WAW’s care, on their way to school, provided by WAW Afghanistan staff