Academic journal article Journal of International Women's Studies

The Way Forward for Girls' Education in Afghanistan

Academic journal article Journal of International Women's Studies

The Way Forward for Girls' Education in Afghanistan

Article excerpt

Abstract

Lack of rights and access to education are problems that have challenged Afghan women throughout the history of their country. True political reform in Afghanistan is contingent upon the solving of these problems, as women's education is essential not only for the development of a more stable government, but also for raising living standards. Women's lack of access to education in Afghanistan is reinforced by beliefs rooted in the religious and familial tradition of community. Although Islamic ideologies have often been distorted and manipulated by leaders to control and subjugate the lives of women, Islam cannot be ignored in the democratization of Afghanistan; it plays too great a role in Afghan society. Therefore, Islam must be respected and invoked as a catalyst to promote women's education and rights. The Islamic Republic of Afghanistan presents a complex landscape in which to examine the gender roles and relations generally, and a woman's access to education specifically, as they are embedded in the country's history and religious ideology. The democratization of education requires a pluralistic education model that involves State and nongovernmental sectors, including secular and non-secular institutions, making itself accessible and acceptable to the greatest number of Afghans possible. Education that teaches and encourages critical thought, ijtihad, and introduces concepts of gender equality--supported by Qur'anic scholarship led by Islamic feminists--is imperative. This is a bottom-up approach to education, which centralizes the needs and interests of Afghan women and girls. It is the aim of this chapter to explore the possibilities of education for girls as a motivating influence on democratization and how a pluralistic approach to education can alleviate the historical gender inequities that have hindered the country for centuries.

Keywords: Afghanistan, Girls' Education, Pluralistic education, Islamic Feminism

Introduction

Perhaps there is no clearer route to economic development, political stability, and ultimately peace, than education (Sen, 1999a, 128-9). For girls and women, education has the potential to also unlock the shackles of oppression and subjugation that prevent them from joining and contributing to society and living their fullest lives. In Afghanistan, education remains an elusive dream for most girls and for many boys. As a result of more than 30 years of uninterrupted conflict, many aspects of society remain underdeveloped and stifled by the longstanding instability and fragility of the governance structure (Fontini & Semple, 2009). The Islamic Republic of Afghanistan presents a complex landscape in which to examine the gender roles and relations generally, and a woman's access to education specifically, as they are embedded in the country's history and religious ideology. The picture is further clouded by Afghanistan's present political, economic and social transitions. Gender has been and continues to be an integral part of any discussion about the country--from the dehumanization of the female under the Taliban, to the libratory claims made by invading U.S. and Coalition forces, to the recognition of women's rights in Afghanistan as a cornerstone of the country's political transition--even if that recognition has been more rhetorical than actionable.

Despite reforms since 2001, actual opportunities for women remain limited. This is due in part to security and logistics, but traditional, tribal, and religious considerations also play a role. Meeting the challenges to providing Afghan women and girls with education requires confronting numerous logistical and ideological barriers. Confronting the logistical barriers to education for girls (and boys) requires shifting to a pluralistic education model, which incorporates government, nongovernmental organization (NGO), religious, and hybrid (quasi-governmental) schools that can be responsive to the local context. …

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