By Mahbubshah Mahbub
Girls in rural parts of Nangarhar province in southeastern Afghanistan are missing out on years of schooling because their families see no need for them to be educated.
One objection raised by some parents – and an issue that could potentially be resolved – is that there are not enough female teachers in the schools. Nangarhar has a total of 725 schools, of which just 128 are for girls. Education officials say there are just 1,300 female teachers for 270,000 girls – a ratio of about one to every 200.
Typically, girls drop out when they are about 14, in the seventh grade.
“When girls reach fifth or sixth grade, they grow up,” said Salem Jan, who stopped his daughter attending school after seventh grade. He said that if he had allowed her to carry on in school, his own honour would be at stake because people would say he was wrong to allow her contact with male teachers.
Khalida, now in the eighth grade at the Haski Mini high school, says she will be leaving because her elder brother objects to men teaching girls.
“So far all our teaching has been from male teachers,” she said. “Continuing with male teachers… we won’t be able to go to school.”
Afghan girls attend a class. (Photo: Christian Science Monitor/Getty)
Shayesta, 14, has had to give up on education after completing the seventh grade.
“When a girl leaves her home or village to go to school, people say a lot of things behind her back. There’s talk,” she said. “Some people had words with my father about a daughter of his going to school. Now I’m not allowed to go any more.”
Shayesta realises that the lack of educated women has knock-on effects for the community.
“Two weeks ago, there was this woman in our village who was pregnant, and she had to go to the city [Jalalabad] since there isn’t a female doctor she could see here. As soon as she arrived in the city, she lost her child,” she said.
Nilofar Aziz, a female member of Nangarhar’s provincial council, accepts that popular resistance to educating teenage girls is a factor, but she also accuses education officials of failing to ensure they have opportunities to make use of their schooling.
“We have some really good, talented girls who have left high school with very high marks, but the education department isn’t advertising posts for female teachers that they could apply for,” she said.
Asif Shinwari, a spokesman for the education department in Nangarhar, rejected these allegations outright.
“As you’re aware, Afghanistan is a traditional, devout society. Barriers to education for girls naturally exist,” he said. “There is a shortage of female teachers in remote parts of the province, but the education ministry has recently launched a new initiative for Nangarhar, which involves raising the wages of female teachers. Those who have an academic degree will be paid 50,000 afghanis [1,000 US dollars] a month.”
A Muslim scholar in Nangarhar, Maulavi Qani, said there was a dire need for women to be educated, and this was something the Prophet Muhammad had encouraged.
“It’s an unfortunate thing that in our society, people won’t let girls go to school. Yet they can go… it isn’t just men who can acquire an education, women have that right as well according to the precepts of Islam,” he said.
Mahbushah Mahbub is an IWPR-trained radio reporter in Nangarhar.