By Kristen Johnson
The Underground Girls of Kabul: In Search of Hidden Resistance in Afghanistan, is an educational, well-researched, eye-opening book about the status of women in Afghanistan. But it is more than that – it is about a phenomenon where young girls pretend to be boys until they are no longer able to do so, both for freedom and for protection for their families.
Jenny Nordberg, the author of the book, describes the plight of several of these so-called bacha posh (meaning “dressed up like a boy”) and their heartbreaking stories. For the most part, women in Afghanistan have zero rights and very little freedom. What happens to you if you do not ever have a male child, or you lose a husband? How can you freely get an education, or even walk to the grocery store on your own? That’s when the girls posing as boys are so valuable. Sadly, male births are celebrated, but female births are met with disappointment. (Underground Girls of Kabul.)
It’s a heartbreaking look at a society that simply does not value women at all. According to UN Women:
Education is often not an option for many women and girls in Afghanistan. According to Government figures, only 26 per cent of Afghanistan’s population is literate, and among women the rate is only 12 per cent. Among school age children, 38 per cent (4.2 million in real numbers) do not have access to schools, most of which are girls.
Insurgents often attack girls who are trying to get an education, and more than 50% of schools do not have the necessary building or supplies to provide an education. (UN Women.) There are some gains being made, but progress is extremely slow.
Reading the book and looking at further statistics and research on the problem can lead to despair. Cultural roots and differences run so deep and change is difficult to begin, much less continue. However, the excuse of “well, that’s just their culture, so just keep out of it” is not good enough. Subjugating 50% of the population is inexcusable.
Just a little bit of research can lead to multiple ways to help the women of Afghanistan:
- Women for Women International: In Afghanistan they have already helped 51,000 women in their year-long program and 68,000 have taken out microcredit loans to start businesses. In addition, they work with men to educate them about violence against women. (womenforwomen.org)
- Aid Afghanistan for Education: This organization assists women and girls over the age of 10 who have previously been denied an education. They provide accelerated education, vocational training, teacher training, and civic training. (http://www.aidafghanistanforeducation.org)
- Feminist Majority Foundation: They publicize the atrocities committed against women in Afghanistan and elsewhere. In addition, they work on public campaigns against gender apartheid, public education, and action alerts. They also provide scholarships for Afghani women to study at Universities in the U.S. “Many have returned to Afghanistan and two are currently working in Afghan governmental agencies. Others are wanted to further the status of Afghan women and girls through education, healthcare, and the media.” The organization also raises funds by selling handmade crafts online which directly supports their mission of helping women and girls. (http://feminist.org/afghan/)
The time to help is now. If women are elevated, everyone is elevated. Be the change.
Joshua 1:9 (NRSV): 9 I hereby command you: Be strong and courageous; do not be frightened or dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”
Serve all with love.
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