Education is more than books, papers and tests.
For some it is a voice for the voiceless, a pathway away from oppression, and a
doorway to freedom. In the Taliban controlled Afghanistan, none are more
voiceless, oppressed and in need of freedom than young women. Women were attacked; schools that supported female students were raided and bombed.
Before the Taliban seized control of Afghanistan in 1996, women participated in all aspects of the political structure, they were respected professionally, and they enjoyed the benefits of education. By the time the Taliban had invaded Kabul, the capitol
of Afghanistan, half of all civil servants had been women.
When the Taliban arrived, they tore the country apart. They destroyed homes, imposed harsh laws on the citizens, and restricted the rights and freedoms of women for whenever and wherever they travelled.
For 15 years, women lived under the violent shadow of the Taliban. They were terrified to walk the streets alone, to go to school, to work, to vote, to express themselves, to be
respected and valued as human beings.
Education has always been one
of the most devastating privileges to deny a person. For example, withholding
the right to learn how to read was a tactic used by American slave owners, for
fear that education would give slaves the strength and knowledge to run away
from the tyranny of slavery. Knowledge is empowerment, it is a way to construct
and create a better society. By barring women’s accessibility to education, the
Taliban stole the possibility that one-day, women would be able to throw off
the oppressive regime. A young Afghani girl, Lima, described this in a haunting
poem she wrote this year for a meeting of the Mirman Baheer poetry group at the
Women’s Affairs Ministry in Kabul.
allow me to go to school.
I won’t become a doctor.
One day you will be sick.
Learning to read and write gives people a voice to speak out against their oppressors. A particular art form that a few very courageous women have embraced is poetry. Like the
lives of these young women, their poetry is saturated with tragedy and without
any sort of formal education; poetry is a convenient vehicle for expression.
Mirman Baheer is a group of young aspiring female poets in Afghanistan, it was started underground during the Taliban regime but it has since risen up to become a government supported group of women and girls.
Although the group is publicly recognized, many women still have to put
their lives in danger to simply have a voice. Now, even though the corporeal
presence of the Taliban has faded, the ghost of the regime still lingers. Women
in Afghanistan still struggle against the misogynist values that some still
possess. For example, a young woman named Zarmina claimed her own life two
years ago after her poetry was discovered by her brothers, she was brutally
beaten and her notebooks filled with poetry were destroyed. Two days later, she
set herself on fire. Zarmina’s struggle has created a martyr out of her. She
has come to represent the danger and rebellious freedom attached to each poem.
The threat of violence and oppression still clouds Afghanistan; however, the skies may soon begin to clear. With the growing support for groups like Mirman Baheer, women who use poetry as a means to battle oppression are slowly gaining strength. Canada has pledged to spend 12 million dollars over the next three years in Afghanistan to
stabilize the rocky education system by building more schools and restoring old
ones. At North Toronto, we can help these women by making sure that their
voices are never silenced. By simply staying informed of the situation, we can
make a difference, by listening to what they have to say, we can change their lives.