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I can only begin to imagine what my life would be like if I didn’t know how to read, if books and a daily newspaper weren’t part of my diet, if I couldn’t decipher the train schedule or track the supermarket ads, if highway signs were incomprehensible and recipes were just a jumble of symbols. I’d feel trapped. And helpless.
What must the women in Afghanistan feel?
Just 12 percent of them over the age of 15 are literate. That means that countless women in one of the poorest nations in the world must depend on others to navigate much of their lives, a dependence that can’t help but weigh heavily on a country desperate for development.
Since 2001, when barely 5,000 girls were in school, Afghanistan has made great strides in opening up that opportunity: 2.4 million girls are now enrolled. But in a new report, Oxfam and 15 other aid organizations warn that a host of problems–poverty, insecurity, a lack of trained teachers, poorly equipped schools–have begun to stall that progress.
For 17-year-old Meena Amiri, a student in Balkh province, the prospect of not being able to complete her education was devastating. Though her brother was allowed to continue, Meena and her two sisters had to drop out of school a few years ago when their father lost his job.
“I felt like I was in prison,” said Meena, who was 14 at the time and had to endure the limbo for a year. “I couldn’t breathe – my life seemed so limited.”
When the director of a local community center pleaded with Meena’s father to let her return and offered to pay for the pens and books she needed, he finally agreed.
“ When my father brought me to the school himself I felt like a bird let loose. I felt free again,” she said. “I went back to school because I want to help my father support our family. I want to make sure my younger sisters don’t have to leave school because we can’t afford it, and I want to serve my country. But I can’t do that if I can’t read and write.”
Meena is just one young woman. Think of all that Afghanistan could accomplish if every young woman there had the same opportunity.
Under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, everyone has the right to an education. Oxfam is calling on donors and the Afghan government to support education for girls: There’s no investment more enduring.