Wives Face School Ban

Enforcement of old law banning married women from the classroom sets back female education cause.

Wives Face School Ban

Enforcement of old law banning married women from the classroom sets back female education cause.

Wednesday, 16 November, 2005

Thousands of young Afghan women have been expelled from school simply because they are married.

It’s a big blow for female students, who had been denied the right to be educated under the hard-line Taleban regime, and hoped for more opportunities under the transitional administration.

A mid-70s law stating that married women cannot attend

high school classes was upheld in September by President Hamed Karzai’s government - and the education ministry has ordered all regions to enforce this rule.

Deputy education minister Sayed Ahmad Sarwari, told IWPR that he didn’t know the exact number of women who’ve been expelled, but that it was “possibly more than two or three thousand”.

After the Taleban were overthrown, one of the first signs that the authorities were putting the past behind them was the reopening of girls schools – and while the law on married women remained it was not implemented.

Supporters of the legislation say it protects unmarried girls in school from hearing “tales of marriage” - in other words, explicit details about sex - from their wedded classmates.

Orders from the central authorities usually take months to be put into

force but some regions are complying already.

Khurshid, one of those recently banished from classes in Kapisa, a province just north of Kabul, told IWPR, “We thought that after the fall of the Taleban, the government would give priority to education, but unfortunately they are taking us towards a great darkness - the administrators have expelled us from school.

“We are very disappointed. Why expel us from school at a time when we are at the end of our education? … We were told that because we were married we should leave school. On the day we were expelled all of us were crying.”

Mohammad Anwar, the principal of Ushtergram High School in Kapisa, explained that he was merely doing the government’s bidding, “We expelled these pupils according to the orders of the education ministry.”

Although married women are not permitted to attend classes, they are still allowed to sit their final exams.

“We still give them the opportunity to… gain their certificates,” Sarwari told IWPR.

“We recently excluded more than one hundred women from a high school in Kabul, but we helped those students take the exam which is a privilege for them.”

But this is of little compensation to women who had hoped that after the dark years of the Taleban they would be granted the right to go to school, irrespective of their marital status.

Zakia Zaki, headmistress of Jebulo Seraj Girls’ High School in the Parwan province, said, “Even though excluded women are few in Parwanan, these women…were very intelligent..[and]..they say that they would prefer not to have the grade and the certificate without an education.”

Khalida, a former pupil in the northern Balkh province, said, “ I didn’t know that if I got married this would happen, otherwise I might have got married after my education.

“I was married during the Taleban because schools were not open for women. Now I am told I can take an exam, but how can I? After all the years I have stayed at home, I have forgotten everything!”

Fahima Hadi, principal of Marim High School in Kabul, said some of her pupils were “so afraid they will be expelled from school they are now refusing to get married”.

Women’s affairs minister Habiba Surabi told IWPR she sympathised with married female students and suggested that the authorities would do more to address their needs.

“In the past we had a different educational resource for married women, a society called Mermana Tolana [Women’s Association] where they could study,” she said.

“We are currently developing government-approved professional high schools [for married women] in four provinces, but they have not yet been inaugurated because of financial problems.

“However, these students should apply to us and we will try to do what we can.”

Elsewhere, international NGOs are also doing their best to better the plight of Afghanistan’s lost generation of pupils, setting up literacy classes for girls who could not attend schools. But these classes, too, have been banned by religious leaders.

One literacy centre student, who wished to remain anonymous, said some of the female students “are confronting a lot of problems. Local religious scholars prevent us from education and threaten our fathers, saying they must not send their daughters to school. But we want to be educated.

“Most of my [classmates] were not permitted to study even though our teachers were female. We don’t see any religious problem here so we must defend our rights because Allah has given us the right to learn.”

Reflecting the views of these critics, Mawlawi Abdul Haq, one of the ulema in the regions, insisted that women should be denied education “because Allah says in the holy Quran that women should at stay home and not expose their beauty”.

At the literacy centres, the girls may be seen by male strangers visiting the classes, he said.

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