Learning as a weapon in the war for survival

By Sakina Rezaei 

As she was tidying the room’s closet, she saw the entrance exam preparation booklet and remembered that the questions in the history section were half-finished. She immediately started answering the questions with full enthusiasm. Soon, she remembered that she is not going to school anymore because she has to marry her cousin. She sighed, returned the booklet to the closet again and continued cleaning.  

Anger forms a lump in her throat, and she breathes hard. She had many plans for the future. She wanted to go to university and study journalism. Her father never wanted her to study and believed that a good girl is someone who learns to become a housewife. With the help of her mother, she was able to study until the tenth grade. Then everything joined together to take away her dreams. The arrival of the Taliban is a good excuse for her father to stop her from attending school and learning centres.  

Her cousin Reza, who had wanted to marry her for two years, had another chance to press his case. Reza had promised her father a handsome amount in bridal price. Now, there was no excuse for postponing the wedding. After the fall of the government, the economic situation of her family deteriorated like that of so many other families. Her marriage had two advantages for her father: he could use the bride price to hold off the worst of the country’s economic hardships, at least for a while, and at the same time, he was getting rid of one mouth from the dinnig table. 

This is a part of my dear friend Zarina’s life and worries. In fact, this is the sad story of all girls in Afghanistan. It has been one year and three months since life became hard and cruel for us. We had just come to terms with losing our schoolmates and friends in the deadly terror attacks of Seyed al-Shuhada school, on May 8, 2021, and what we endured during the disruptions of the pandemic. The traumas and difficulties made us more enthusiastic about school and learning. But we didn’t know that fate is going to turn once again, so that studying is not only prohibited, but also carries the potential risk of death.  

My friends and I are among the poorest of the city. The story of our mothers are those of underage marriage, discrimination, and deprivation. My friends and I made a commitment to have different futures from our mothers. We would shape our own destiny through education. But the new rulers of Afghanistan have made our lives so precarious that, for the first time in my life, I wished that I was a boy like my brother instead of being sentenced to confinement inside the house. How resilient can a girl be? Why should she be resilient at all? Until last spring, I was studying hard and had big dreams. My mother was happy, hoping that her daughters would not suffer her fate.  

We were unaware that everything turned back in an instant. Suddenly we were removed from everywhere. In the streets, I have heard Taliban insults about our appearance and clothes, despite us being fully clothed. Even female faces are banned on television. Initially, we were optimistic that the pressure of the international community would not allow the Taliban to repeat their past anti-women policies, but, with time, we realized that the Taliban haven’t changed and the world has decided to remain silent. 

For several months, we were overwhelmed by fear, despair, and helplessness. The Taliban’s suffocating laws, kidnapping of girls, and the serial murders of women has created an environment of fear so pervasive that families give their daughters into marriage as way to protect them and the family honour. But we, the generation of girls risen from fire, cannot accept this destiny. I and my three friends pledged to not bow down to oppression, to not let forced marriage be our destiny. We vowed to help each other and meet every few days so that despair and depression do not crush us. In our conversations, we realized that the only path to salvation is education and learning. Our group of four decided to study online school subjects in English. We planned to meet every week. We searched for scholarships for girls. We set a goal to learn English and educate ourselves in accordance with world standards so that we can compete for scholarships and the chance to study outside of Afghanistan.  

Of course, this is not so easy. The first and most important problem we face is the cost of the Internet. In a situation where unemployment is rampant, all avenues are closed for us young and inexperienced girls. I am fortunate that my mother sews and I help her to make some money for the Internet. Finding websites that offer free courses is another bummer. But with all this, the four of us try our best to make the best use of the minimum available to us. Another issue that worries us is that most foreign scholarships for Afghanistan have been suspended. India, America, and Britain used to provide many scholarships for Afghanistan, but not anymore. For this reason, so far, everywhere we have contacted, the answer has been “no.” Sometimes the limitations make us doubt our successes. These thoughts sometimes lead us to the border of madness and despair but giving up is not an option. If we give in, we must succumb to a gradual death in a forced marriage or other dark fate. It is our group efforts, and our joint endeavours to learn that take us a little away from despair. At 17, it is too early to be disappointed, and too early to give up. We will continue toward the light in the darkness. 

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