In America, the first day of school comes with excitement and nerves. Girls ages three and up prepare for the start of a new school year armed with a backpack, lunchbox, and dreams of being doctors, lawyers, homemakers, teachers, or whatever their hearts desire. A little hard work and determination, combined with the proverbial American dream, will make many of these girls’ dreams come true.
In Afghanistan, nearly 3 million girls will join those Americans in heading off to school. This is a vast improvement from 11 years ago, when nearly no Afghan girls were allowed to be educated. Though these girls may have dreamed of being doctors or economists, those goals would remain private dreams, as women were not allowed to hold prominent careers.
One 17-year-old student, who wants to be an economist someday, is worried about what will happen to her education should the Americans leave: “Maybe the past situation that we had, like, women were not able to go out, were not allowed to … you were just, allowed to stay and home and do the home chores … Who knows what happens in the future? Just … I am really concerned.”
While many fear what will come in the future, many women are reaping the benefits of this new culture now. The video below depicts a well-known clinic that works with infants born prematurely or with complications. Many of these children would not be alive if it weren’t for the neonatal care unit, run by a female doctor. Nearby, there is a school that was used as Taliban headquarters, that now houses dozens of girls, taught by a female teacher. The change is radical.
A new generation of children is Afghanistan is being raised out from under Taliban rule; many remember what it was like to have to stay at home all the time, to remain hidden and unheard and uneducated. But many were children, and many were evacuated from the country when the was began. One 15-year-old student, currently the top in her class, doesn’t see the benefit in American involvement: “They should pack their bags and go,” she tells foreign correspondent Richard Angle.
Although education is available for millions of girls in Afghanistan, it does not come without risk. CNN reports that for many Afghan girls, “the simple act of walking to school can be a life-threatening journey.”
“You close the door behind you, and you enter a war zone,” said Nushin Arbabzadah, an American-based author raised in Afghanistan. But “the walk from home to school is – and has always been – the most dangerous part,” Arbabzadah said. “You are told to stay covered, keep your head down and walk quickly … and stare at your toes.”
Last year, there were at least 185 documented attacks on school and hospitals in Afghanistan, most of those attributed to groups who oppose the education of females. There are documented cases of schoolchildren being “maimed by acid attacks,” reports Allie Torgan of CNN, “Others have had their drinking water poisoned or been targeted by bombers who think females should be forbidden from school.”
Beth Murphy, a documentary film who traveled to Afghanistan to work on a film about girls’ education, shares with Torgan: “It is unfathomable that anyone would want to hurt them. But that is the reality.”
While some wants Americans gone, many girls are worried about what will happen if America removes itself from Afghanistan. They wonder, will things go back to the way they were? In a country where only 6% of women 25 and older have any kind of formal education, it is a valid question.
What do you think? Do you think that America and helped or hindered the progress of Afghan education … and does it even matter? The video below depicts the opinions of several Afghan schoolgirls and professionals.