Academic journal article Pakistan Journal of Women's Studies: Alam-e-Niswan

The Politics of Education in Afghanistan

Academic journal article Pakistan Journal of Women's Studies: Alam-e-Niswan

The Politics of Education in Afghanistan

Article excerpt

In Kandahar, a 17-year-old girl on her way to school heard the roar of a motorcycle. She turned as it slowed down next to her and the man riding pillion flung battery acid in her face blinding and scarring her. Later, she told a reporter, "My parents told me to keep coming to school even if I am killed. The people who did this to me don't want women to be educated. They want us to be stupid things" (Filkins, 2009a). The story goes on to describe the efforts of the local community, men, and women to keep their daughters in school despite threats from Taliban insurgents. The courage of the girls, their families, and teachers is striking. In the face of death threats, they persist in pursuing an education. The reporter takes at face value the girl's assertion that the Taliban want women to be uneducated without investigating why that may be the case. Why are so many Afghans determined to attend school while others are equally determined to stop them? This paper examines the politics of education, particularly girls' education, in Afghanistan in order to make sense of both impulses. By education, I mean formal schooling rather than the various forms of informal learning that agrarian societies traditionally require. Formal schooling in Afghanistan includes underground schools for girls, religious schools of various types, government modern schools, and schools run by non-religious NGOs and for-profit private schools. Most schools today are state-run schools and it is the politics associated with these schools that is explored here.

I argue that despite the grand promises made repeatedly to "save" Afghan women, very little has been accomplished in the years since the 2001 occupation began. The continuing lack of security has severely hampered reconstruction and continues to traumatize the Afghan population. However, education is one of the rights guaranteed in the new Afghan constitution that actually appears to be a promise kept (Afghanistan Constitution, 2004). The first half of the paper considers the broad historical and theoretical context within which discussions of Afghan girls' right to education take place. The second half of the paper examines trends in education and develops the argument that despite some caveats there is cause for optimism that the long-term effect of the 2001 occupation may yet yield some positive benefit for Afghanistan by creating the infrastructure for women's schooling. I conclude with a brief discussion of how the Afghan case compares with others in the Muslim and non-Muslim world.

International Concern for Afghan Women: Rhetoric or Reality?

One of the theoretical questions motivating this study of education in Afghanistan is to ask whether an imperial power can positively influence the status of women in a sate even as it uses their conditions as a means to justify aggression. Although the American expressions of concern for Afghan women may well have been either false or articulated for reasons other than the welfare of Afghan women, they have created a norm by which to judge the effects of international intervention in the country. The continuing fighting and insecurity that it generates is well known. Less well known are indicators relating to schooling. The Taliban actually reduced the access of Afghans, particularly women, to health care, education and other basic social services. The progress made since their ouster still leaves Afghanistan with many development gaps but some advances can be seen.

Afghanistan is not lost, but for several years, it has moved backwards. There is no imminent threat of the government being overthrown, but the Taliban has gained momentum. And our forces lack the full support they need to effectively train and partner with Afghan security forces and better secure the population (Barack Obama, 2009).

The American engagement is not just war making but also necessarily about rebuilding a society. The key to any society is the way in which it organizes relations between men and women. …

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