When there are more failures than successes and more shortages than abundance, we tend to often forget celebrating our success. The same has happened in my homeland, Afghanistan, especially in regards to gender issues. Many inside and outside of the country are trying to compress this gap and bring about a new environment where there is equality and respect between the two genders.
The process is promising but bumpy, and one of the main keys to successful and lasting change is education. Serious strides have been made to increase the amount of women and girls in schools. Still, monstrous obstacles remain to overcome.
As an Afghan girl, who has attended school in Afghanistan, I am well aware of these barriers. Many of my teachers were poorly trained and the material that I learned in class was often inaccurate. I remember one occasion when my geometry teacher was giving us a lecture on triangles. I was lucky enough to attend classes outside of school that gave me better information. My teacher was completely wrong; I had covered triangles in my extra classes, and knew that the information she presented was incorrect, but I had no courage to get up and say anything, as this would have been considered extremely rude and would have caused me big trouble.
After that day, it was hard for me to trust my teachers with what they were teaching me. I was fortunate to have my parents agree to send me to some extra classes where I would repeat the same subjects I was supposed to study, but not all students had the same luxury. While there were more than 100 eleventh grade girls at my school, only 5 of us were attending extra classes outside of school.
Many families in my neighborhood would send their sons to get a better education, attend extra classes, go to libraries and further their knowledge, but would deprive their daughters of such opportunity. Gender equality is possible when both genders are given the same opportunities to grow.
If we want women to be able to participate in the government, business, society and other sectors where they are needed, we first need to empower them by giving opportunities to explore and further their knowledge.
However, not being able to get a quality education is not the only problem girls attending school face. Getting to school is a big challenge in and of itself.
There is not one day where a girl attending school or university can feel safe. Many people who are against girls attending school are trying to lower the morale of female students and discourage them from attending classes. Being harassed and followed by boys is something every Afghan girl trying to get an education is familiar with. I can only imagine how many girls must have dropped out of school so they could avoid facing such discomfort every day.
Girls rarely talk about this problem at their houses, because they are either too shy or too scared to talk about these problems. Even if they were to tell their parents, their parents would most likely attempt to solve the problem by stopping them from attending school. They can hardly find someone who can help them in such situations, if they were to take action themselves. Girls, in some families, are taught and made to feel weak from a very young age.
Due to these issues, families tend to over-protect their daughters at all times. To empower women, we first need to change this fact. We need to teach young girls to speak out. We must focus on security and repairing the social structure.
Education is one of the most important steps towards gender equality. Helping girls get educated does not happen by building schools alone. Rather, that is where the sensitive work begins. We need to provide girls with quality education, easy access to resources that will further their knowledge, and most of all, the security to sustain these gains.
Much has changed over the years in Afghanistan. Women are getting closer and closer to achieving equality to men in Afghan society. However, we all know this is a long journey, but we have to keep in mind that education is extremely important. We shouldn’t ignore the fact that girls who are already in school will drop out if the many problems they face are not addressed.
Written by Seelay Tasmim, WAW Advocacy Intern