Threat to ‘girl power’ as Taliban besiege Kandahar – Byline Times
Aaquib Khan reports from the Kandahar Institute for Modern Studies where female students fear losing their educational credentials as insurgents surround Afghanistan’s second largest city
The large green mulberry tree inside the perimeter of the Kandahar Institute for Modern Studies (KIMS) is loaded with a green and red colored fruit called Whistle. Soon the berries will turn black when ripe, passing through all the shades of the national tricolor of Afghanistan. Perhaps this is why the mulberry is the national tree of Afghanistan.
Under the same tree on a sunny morning, girls in their hijabs, some dressed in black and blue scarves and others covering their faces with surgical masks, are standing and chatting against a wall with KIMS printed in bold print of light green color. The girls discuss the results of their tests. But the conversation is not in Pashto or Dari, the country’s official and widely spoken languages. They discuss among themselves the results of their English tests, with an American English accent.
“Wherever we go, we can communicate with others in English, and for my graduate studies, the English language is important,” said Fatima, a grade 11 student. Signing time behind a black veil.
KIMS is a private higher education center that emphasizes the education and employment of women. Teachers from the United States and Canada teach English and business classes to students for free via Skype. High walls, a metal door and an old guard welcome the buses, cars which transport the students to the courtyard of the center. Transportation is organized by the center so that female students can continue their studies without having to face harassment on the streets in a deeply patriarchal society.
“Kandahar is the most dangerous province for girls. The boys tease the girls, and the girls do not feel safe to receive an education: we do not have enough centers especially for the girls to receive an education, ”Fatima explained.. She had a hard time convincing her parents to allow her to continue her education, especially when the Taliban warned schools and universities to close.
“We have the right to education, and if we want to improve our education, we have to come here, even though it is so dangerous now in Kandahar, we have to come,” says Fatima, with resilience in her voice indicating. that something has changed on the ground for the younger generation of Afghans who have lived in an environment of terror from birth – a resilience that frightens tyrants and militias alike.
There are 68 women legislators in the Afghan parliament. Over the past two decades, women have also held leadership positions in the judiciary, the military, the police or as regional governors.
KIMS is an oasis for around 1,300 students, 50% of whom are women, far from the chaos and conflicts of the city. Here the girls can move freely, learn and dream.
The lessons are held in two teams, the students studying in the morning and the students in the afternoon. With ages ranging from school children and college students to married women in their twenties and thirties, they all come here to study English, learn computer science and business programs, in order to catch up with a changing country and to use better opportunities
“We come here to get an education, to change our personalities, to move from obscurity to lightness,” said Fariha, a non-hijabi student. Signing time. She comes from a marginal middle class home and says, “We have the power of girls; we have the power of women. We can do it all. We are going to change the world.
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After nine years of conflict and the estimated death of a million civilians in a bloody civil war between the Soviet-backed Communist government in Kabul and the anti-Communist Mujahedin, the Soviet army withdrew from Afghanistan in 1988-89. The Mujahedin turned on each other and these infighting led to the emergence of a group of religious students – the Taliban – in Kandahar in 1994. During the civil war, the Taliban made Kandahar their capital. .
The group captured Kabul in a blitz in 1996 until they were overthrown by US-led NATO forces during Operation Enduring Freedom end of 2001. With the withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan, the Taliban are gaining ground and are now standing at the gates of the city of Kandahar. Echoes of the harsh rules imposed by the Taliban on Afghan society during their rule in the 1990s worry many Afghans – especially the younger generation living in urban centers who were born in the last two decades under occupation by forces. foreigners and saw a country with improved roads, better educational and health facilities, new opportunities.
We have the power of girls; we have the power of women. We can do it all. We are going to change the world.
In a statement in June this year, the head of the Taliban’s political bureau, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, said the Taliban would pledge to “respect all the rights of citizens” in Afghanistan “whether men or women. “. Group spokeswoman Suhail Shaheen said in an interview that women in the new government will be allowed to work, attend school and participate in politics but will have to wear Hijab.
But the lack of faith in the Taliban’s promises is clearly visible among KIMS students. And the fear is real. During their reign, women were confined to their homes and girls were not allowed access to education, employment, proper health care, and in many cases women were punished by the talibés.
“I hope they (the Taliban) don’t rule over Kandahar, because if they come back, we won’t have a chance to continue our education.” I really don’t believe them. I don’t, ”Fatima said Signing time. “Half of the students who are girls stay at home because their families are afraid of the Taliban. “
The traditional Afghan patriarchal system remains intact in rural areas where women’s lives have not changed much from the previous era of the Taliban regime. However, in Kabul and other urban centers, progress has been made. According to the Ministry of Education, more than 9 million children are in school, including more than 3.5 million girls. Two decades ago, there were only 3,000 schools in Afghanistan, but now 18,000 schools are active in the country. There are 68 women legislators in the Afghan parliament. Over the past two decades, women have also held senior positions in the judiciary, the military, the police or as regional governors.
“As you know, they (the Taliban) are such distracted people that they don’t allow girls to get an education,” said Aamira, who is preparing for her English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) test. Signing time. “In my opinion, they are just pretending to sign the treaty (in the peace talks). They will do whatever they want.
The director of the center, Hamayoon Amiri, checks the students’ test results and encourages them to work hard on the next tests. In her mid-40s, Amiri believes the Taliban may have changed over the past two decades and can now enable women to get an education.
“I heard that some of the Taliban on their way to Kandahar from Helmand province speak English. They know computers, ”said Amiri Signing time. “Maybe the Taliban today are not the Taliban they were 10-20 years ago,” he added with an enigmatic smile that was not difficult to decode: he is worried.
A longer version of this article appears in Newlines Magazine
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