Eighteen-year-old Diba is from northeastern Kunduz province, where she could be in her first year of high-school. Instead, her father has forced her to stop her education.
“I love the white head scarf and black uniform of school, but unfortunately my father hates them,” Diba sighed, while washing dishes in the family home. “When I hear the sound of the school bell, I become very sad.”
Diba is one of thousands of young Afghan girls who are deprived of a full education in Afghanistan. There are many reasons why families do not allow their daughters to continue their education after finishing secondary school: some are concerned about security, but some girls are forced to leave school due to discriminatory traditions, or because they are married off by their families.
A recent report by the international NGO, OXFAM, says more than 110,000 girls attended secondary schools last year, but just one third of those went on to complete their education.
“I don’t let my daughter go to high-school because we have a conservative society. Nobody allows his daughters to continue their schooling after class 4 or 5 [roughly age 11 or 12],” said Diba’s father [he declined to give his name] adding: “If I let my daughter to go to school … then my relatives will say bad things about me.”
He maintained that girls should work in the family home, and should not study or work outside the home.
Zahra Ghafori was Diba’s classmate in school, and she says that Diba was a clever student, coming fourth in her class: “She was very intelligent and she wanted to become a doctor.”
Diba used to attend Bibi Fatuma-tu-Zahra, one of the larger high-schools in Kunduz province. Asila Barakzai, principal of the school, said that last year more than 1,100 girls had attended the school, but only around 500 of them went to further education.
“Mostly during the classes of 7, 8 or 9 [ages 13 to 15], people stop sending their daughters to school because they become adult during this time,” Barakzai told IRIN.
Diba’s mother studied until class 11 [age 17]. She would like her daughter to become a doctor, but she has failed to convince her husband. “Every night I talk to her father to let her go, but he doesn’t accept. She always cries and asks me to talk to her father,” she added.
I don’t let my daughter go to high-school because we have a conservative society. Nobody allows his daughters to continue their schooling after class 4 or 5 [roughly age 11 or 12].
At the beginning of 2006, the Afghan government and the international community met in London to decide what the country should achieve by the end of 2010. One goal is that the number of women attending universities should be increased to 35,000.
According to the Afghan Ministry of Higher Education (MoHE), currently, 40,000 students go to university; about 10,000 of those are women. The girls must sit an entrance exam in order to go on to university.
The Afghan Ministry of Education (MoE) says it can build enough new schools. But as long as families refuse to allow their daughters to continue their education, building schools will only be a part of the solution.
Scherezad Latif, education specialist at the World Bank in Kabul, said they were just starting to deal with the cultural constraints affecting female education in Afghanistan.
“We are still new at this; we need to test out pilot interventions and how to get more girls into school,” Latif added, saying that for now they are trying community-based schools.
Meanwhile, for Diba, the solution appears a long way off. However, she has not given up her wishes: “I hope one day I can make my father satisfied to let me start my school again.”
[This article is part of a special IRIN series that looks at how conflict, poverty and social alienation are affecting the lives of children and teenagers. Read more: Youth in crisis: coming of age in the 21st century]