Alternative schooling opens doors for Afghan girls and women

Alternative schooling opens doors for Afghan girls and women

A group of girls and women pore over their books by the light of the weak winter sun pouring in through a window. The tiny classroom has neither electricity nor heating and the students huddle close together on toushaks, cotton-stuffed mattresses popular in Afghan households, to keep warm.

“When it starts to be more cold, we will have to stop classes for a few months,” Maryam, their teacher, tells The National as she sits at the head of the classroom in Markaz-e-Amozish — Local Centre for Learning — a community-based school in Kabul’s destitute Dasht-e-Barchi district with more than 250 female students.

The students in the classroom range in age from 12 to 40. Zakia, the oldest and also the most enthusiastic, recalls the day she decided to go back to school.

“I was in the market and lost my way, and I couldn’t even read any of the sign boards. I was so embarrassed and scared to have to ask for directions back to my own home,” she says.

She says she now realises the importance of education for women.

“Working women should be literate so they are not cheated out of their hard-earned [money] just because they can’t count or keep record.”

For many of the older women at Markaz-e-Amozish, their education was cut short during the war against Soviet occupation in the 1980s. The younger ones were born into communities that upheld conservative patriarchal views and opposed women’s education. Schools such as Markaz-e-Amozish, have provided these women with safe spaces to learn and develop.

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