Education Behind the Veil: Women in Afghanistan
by Sharifa Sharif
This article presents a glimpse of women's situation in Afghanistan with regard to their education. What you read here are selected stories from a group of educated women whom I interviewed from 1986 to 1988. The situation in Afghanistan has drastically changed since then and women's education, and all aspects of their social and legal lives, has taken a reverse turn.
The current regime, which is busy fighting the opposition parties for its day to day survival, has no time for any social reform and rehabilitation after more than a decade of war. However, the time has been found to please stone-age fundamentalists by ordering closure to women's schools and removal of women from offices. The supreme court of the government of Afghanistan passed a declaration on September 25, 1993 which says: "The Supreme Court seriously and reiteratedly asks the government to immediately enforce all the Sharia [Islamic law], especially to enforce the law of seclusion and veil and to throw women out of the offices and close the women's schools which are in reality the centres for prostitution and adultery; and also to throw them out of the radio and T.V." (1).
In a country where a political regime can impose such conditions on half its population, any institutional progress or development is fragile. Schools, university, and public offices in instable political situations, such as in Afghanistan, can go through various super structural changes in their style and mode of operation. For many Islamic countries where political powers differ along the spectrum of fundamentalism and progressive views, women's rights, mainly their right to work and education, are among the first items in the changing agenda whether in a forward or a backward direction.
Education: An unquestioned
luxury or unjustified need?
The overall picture of Afghan women and education also manifests a point of conflict between the modern and traditional. Education finds its way to the villages where it encounters resistance from the elder people, while the younger generation generally support their sisters' and daughters' education. Thus, another contrast emerges in the picture of women's education. Some get it easily, some fight for it, some are not even aware that it could be an option. The stories below narrate the confrontation that women's education poses between progressive and traditional beliefs.