Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Education for Afghan Woman: Girls in Afghanistan VS Afghan Girls in America

For those that have been following this blog, you can see that most of my writing is geared towards marriage and all the great things that accompany it. I am after all, a happy Afghan housewife (something that is rarely stated in the news media). A happy Afghan wife? Is there such a thing?! Well I am proof of one and I have created this blog to express my gratitude, share information about the Afghan culture especially customs that pertain to marriage and simple everyday life. My intention has been to remain positive in information sharing, however, I have to be realistic and give a wholesome picture of our Afghan culture, especially when it comes to marriage and education here in the states and in Afghanistan.

As the title states, lack of education and marrying young go hand in hand for many Afghan girls. I do not want to undermine any of my readers intelligence when it comes to Afghanistan's history, however, for those who may be unaware, Afghanistan was once a fully functioning society, i.e. had top universities where women made up half the student body, European influenced attire for men and women (think pencil cut black skirts and short sleeve blouses for women and 70's style suits and jeans for men. I have a photo of my father when he attended Kabul Medical University in huge shades (sunglasses) and a yellow polyester suit, bell bottoms and all!).

There were women doctors and teachers and literacy was encouraged for women even those living in the provinces which tend to be more traditional in nature than the capital city of Kabul. My own mother had a school uniform of white pants and scarf and a black dress and shoes which she wore everyday until she was taken out of school because she was 'mature' enough. This mentality existed before Afghanistan became a war zone, where a girl who reached a certain age or stage, say, high school, they were heavily influenced to quit school and get married instead. This is similar to American history, where women in the 70's and 80's had few college graduates as most became wives and mothers after finishing high school.

The great thing about America is that change can happen and now in 2011, more women graduate college then men! Whereas in Afghanistan, the access for women's education has taken a back seat. Maybe because they've had to deal with merely surviving first after 30 decades of war than to think of extracurricular activities, such as a higher education? Access to education for girls in Afghanistan is there but quite difficult. First, there is the mentality of the men: Girls need to get married once they reach puberty as 1) they will cause shame to the family (i.e. get involved with someone without marriage or worse yet, become pregnant out of wedlock) 2) They will become too old and will not be desirable after a certain age. 3)The family needs the money they get from the groom (which is not Islamic, rather cultural).

These concerns are legitimate for Afghan men and some women in that the family unit is a cherished unit in the Afghan culture. Every woman should have the security of a marriage and not simply have a boyfriend with no commitment and to produce and raise healthy children in a healthy marriage ( isn't having a solid family foundation a basis for a functioning society?) however, the issue is why do they have to do all the aforementioned at such a young age?

Here is my thoughts on why girls marry young in Afghanistan and sometimes in the US. Lack of Education. Limited access to resources. The heavy influence from the older men and women in the family and most importantly, the inability to support themselves. If a girl in Afghanistan or even in the states, has no formal education or training, family is pressuring her to get married, her own family is unable to provide for her anymore nor can she provide for herself and she is bored out of her mind day in and day out (what does a girl do everyday if she is not married, no kids, doesn't go to school or work?) Wouldn't marriage look desirable? At least, it's something to do.

I remember when I was visiting Afghanistan , I came into contact with a wonderful and very bright young girl, maybe she was 15 at the time. She asked if I would talk to her older brother to letting her continue her studies as she was recently pulled out of school because she was "older" now and the boys were 'looking' at her when she walked to school. The walk to school was about 2 miles, which she walked with the neighborhood girls everyday. Since the other girls were no longer attending school, she would have to make the walk alone to go to school and that was something the men in the family would not allow as there had been gossip of 'men in trucks' picking up girls on the road.

After our conversation, I sat down with her older brother and he explained his side. He asked how would I feel knowing that my sister was in danger every time she left the house by herself to go to school? My simple answer: walk with her. His answer: I need to work to provide for her and her books. My question: Can she have a car come pick her up for school everyday? (yes, this is my US mind speaking) His answer: Will you pay for the car service for her and all the girls in the community for the next ten years and confirm their safety at school? (there had been news of a recent destruction of a nearby school). The infrastructure of Afghanistan has to be rebuilt before we can encourage education for women and wonder why they marry so young instead of going to school. Two years later, that same girl was married. If a young girl in Afghanistan can not be provided the transportation and safety to attend school, how will she be educated?

In the states, we have access to education freely, so why then are there Afghan girls not attending higher education or getting advanced degrees but instead continuing to marry at a very young age? It is the mentality of the older Afghans that has crept into the minds of the younger generation that encourage and influence early marriages. This should not be part of the Afghan culture! Our true culture and faith encourage us to seek knowledge! I remember my father telling me in elementary school, in middle school, high school and all throughout my college and graduate school days, that he will support me as long I was in school and making something great of myself, whatever it was (yeah, what can I say, I changed majors a few times in college). He would always remind me how proud he was of me and how much he supported my educational choices and would continue to do so until I reached an old age, had gray hair and beyond. Granted he would hint at marriage here and there, if he didn't, he wouldn't be an true Afghan parent! This is the kind of encouragement I would like to see from our elders to young Afghan girls, especially those who have access.

I am proud to say that the Afghan- American girls I personally know and interact with on a daily basis are the best of the best. Smart, educated, classy and still remain true to what they are and where they come from. These Afghan girls are the true example of what a 'real' Afghan woman is and what we would of had of our country was not destroyed. These young Afghan women have learned the language and culture of America, have exceeded in school and became today's engineers, doctors, teachers, journalists, lawyers and housewives who have an educated mind for positive interaction with family members and to teach their children and create strong solid family units with love, care and unconditional support.

I just pray and hope that younger Afghan girls will follow that same route and continue their studies instead of getting married so early, especially when they live in the US and have unlimited access to education and resources to be successful professionally. Marriage is an amazing place to be in, in your life, however, it feels even better when you have completed your education and can freely be successful in your personal and professional life and have real life skills( even if it's a housewife role you desire then be it! Building and maintaining a home with love and care takes more work than an outside career sometimes, as you will need skills of negotiating, time management, communication skills, creativity, literacy, etc). This energy will make your marriage strong, your family functional and society productive. You will attract a mate that will appreciate all your hard work and work with you in life so both of you are successful, healthy and happy and raise wholesome children through educated guidance and support.

If Afghan-Americans can use their resources rightfully and educate themselves while they are here in the US, they can turn Afghanistan around in less than 20 years aboard and create a more positive image of Afghans to the international community.So that in time, the Afghan girl in Afghanistan who wanted to continue going to school, can do so without a threat to her life. Afghans need to focus and educate each other to be successful, now wouldn't that make our Afghan forefathers proud who use to live in such a country?