Education and Women’s History Month

March is Women’s History Month, a time to remember the struggle of women worldwide for basic human rights. This year, the theme is “Education”, and Barakat has joined the chorus in support of women’s education worldwide.

To give you an idea of how far women have come in this regard in the U.S.; in post Revolutionary-War America, education for women was only supported because an educated mother was viewed as better equipped to raise an educated son. Today, according to a 2006 report by the New York Times, women in the United States make up 58 percent of bachelor’s degree candidates, earn 62 percent of associate degrees, 60 percent of master’s degrees, and 50 percent of doctorates. However, this advancement in women’s education is not common worldwide.

Historically, in the areas of South and Central Asia, where Barakat’s work is focused, education has been tied to religion. Formal schooling was widely recognized as the teaching of law and correct behavior from the Koran. In Afghanistan, for example, education for women was virtually nonexistent until 1919, when King Amunullah greatly expanded secular education for the country. When the Taliban came to power in Afghanistan in 1996, the educational infrastructure crumbled. Until the regime was overthrown in 2001, education for women and girls was essentially abolished. They established Madrassas (Mosque Schools), which enrolled 1.2 million students, only 50,000 of whom were girls.

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And still today, in Afghanistan and Pakistan, school is viewed as a useless interference in a woman’s ability to make money to put food on the table. Every hour spent in the classroom is regarded as a waste of valuable time that could have been spent contributing to family income.

Adding to this problem, Afghanistan and Pakistan battle poverty as one of the biggest obstacles to education. When a family has to decide between paying tuition for a young girl to go to school or investing in a son’s education – the latter is often the obvious choice; young men are seen as having better future opportunities than their sisters.

In Afghanistan today, girls make up only 37 percent of the student population. The situation in Pakistan is marginally better. According to the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), 60 percent of girls, and 84 percent of boys, are enrolled in primary schools. Meanwhile 32 percent of girls and 46 percent of boys are enrolled in secondary schools.

Recognizing the unfair advantage given to male students, Barakat offers various incentives for young girls and women to attend our schools. There are no tuition fees for a young girl or a woman to attend a Barakat school or community literacy programs. Furthermore, Barakat offers literacy courses and schools during “off-work” hours so it doesn’t take away from a woman’s ability to contribute to household income during the day! This is done in the hope that the family will have no excuse to deny their daughters the basic human right of having an education.

In addition, there are scholarship opportunities for young women attending Barakat schools. Among the many success stories of Barakat students, the scholarship students shine particularly brightly. The Jolkona Foundation, for example, sponsors qualified students that plan to pursue higher education. Currently, there are two scholarship students studying in Pakistan in the Sewad Hiyati program. There are also three students on public scholarship programs for Afghan refugees in Pakistan.

This newsletter features our teachers, their thoughts on women’s rights and their work. Teachers like Humaira and Mohammad play a critical role in advancing Barakat’s mission to provide education to girls and women where this basic human right has been kept out of their reach.

Without YOU, we couldn’t continue to empower women in this basic and crucial way. Barakat looks forward to your continued financial support and friendship in this endeavor. Please donate today!


Courage and Conviction

Ms. Humaira is a soft hearted, caring individual. It was for this reason that she was drawn to teaching; this is where she finds her purpose, in her students.

Ms. Humaira is an English teacher at the Ersari Elementary School in Mari More, Attock. Attock is a city in the north of Pakistan’s Punjab district, the home of many Afghan refugees. Seeing the struggle these children will have accessing quality education, Humaira is motivated to help them.

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Ms. Humaira’s classroom is small—she teaches three classes each day, but has only 15 students. While the teacher-student ratio is ideal, the reasons for these small numbers is not. Many students in this region are barred from education because of poverty. The Ersari school is set in Attock, a city of more than 100,000 people, and has only ten classrooms. Obviously too small to accommodate all the prospective students, the school has plans and hope for improvement.

What makes the school special, are the teachers like Ms. Humaira, who have a passion for their students’ education. One dream Humaira has, that Barakat is helping her achieve, is to develop multimedia classrooms. She recognizes the advantage modern technology will give to learning. “It will facilitate the teachers by helping them keep a record of their lessons. It will help the students, because they will no longer have to cram their lessons.”—she has observed that her students cannot retain information well when they cram. “They will be able to learn a subject better and less time will be spent by a teacher in preparing a lesson on a multimedia platform … It will help my students understand the lessons better in a shorter period of time because the lesson will be taught with the help of pictures and videos … a picture is worth a thousand words.”

While her job is challenged by poverty, Ms. Humaira forges on as she battles for her students’ futures. “The greatest challenge for me to teach in the present situation … is the students’ not having uniforms and books … poverty is their biggest challenge.” Yet Ms. Humaira does not let this hold her back. Instead she makes sacrifices to ensure that her students succeed. “I try to help any student as much as I can. I provide them with moral and financial support.” She is also very hopeful that the school is progressing towards a brighter future with the aid of multimedia, “In my view, I can see a very bright future for the school if it is equipped with the latest educational facilities.”

One goal Barakat has for all of its schools is to have computer labs. What would a school in America be without computers To bring the students in Afghanistan and Pakistan up to speed, Barakat is working to provide them with the same necessary tools as their Western counterparts. It is our goal in 2012 to have at least 2 computer labs in two schools in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

What Ms. Humaira is doing is far from easy, but when asked where she finds the courage to teach, she responds, “When I look around and see needy but ambitious people, it gives me courage to help them by teaching them.”


Women Hold Up Half the Sky

In honor of Women’s History Month, we would like to present Mohammad Saleh, a new world, Islamic male feminist. Mohammed is a husband, a father, and a believer in the integrity of women’s rights. He educates his daughters, and is hopeful that they will pursue the highest degree of education.

altMohammed recognizes the importance of Women’s History Month, and March 8th, which is Women’s Day, as he supports women’s struggles for basic human rights in Afghanistan. “As a male teacher, I always support women all over the country and highly respect this day,” he asserts. Now a resident of Pakistan, he experienced first hand the blatantly cruel gender discrimination inflicted by the Taliban in Afghanistan. “During war, rights of women in our country were completely demolished, their rights were not recognized, they were treated as non-living things. Now we are fortunate to celebrate the Woman’s Day.”

Furthermore, he promotes Human Rights, specifically women’s rights, in his classroom. “Boys and girls have equal rights in this society, so the teachers should be careful to this point, because every human being has same rights,” Mohammed emphasizes. He charges teachers with the responsibility to promote and uphold gender equality. “Now, if the teachers do not pay attention to the discrimination among the girl and boy students, we will not have a better and brighter society for the next generation.”

Mohammed is a unique individual. He has been teaching for ten years at the Kulalkhana Girls High School, between the Gozareaqmasjed and Kulalkhana villages, in Pakistan. He teaches grades 4-8 the languages of Dari (an ethnolect spoken by 8,000-15,000 people in South Asia), Pashto (Native language of the Pashtun people of South Central Asia), Arabic, Uzbeki, as well as Islamic and Social studies. His classes range in size from 40-60 students.

What makes Mohammed a truly special teacher is his progressive outlook on woman’s education. “It is my great ambition to teach the students in a better way and present them as gifts to society.” He sees great value in the opportunity he provides his female students. Furthermore, he has great expectations for them to succeed and contribute their skills and education to society.

Mohammed advocates for the rights of his daughters, his wife, and the women of Afghanistan and Pakistan primarily by promoting their education. “I am trying my best to present literate and educated persons to society, therefore I let my daughters go to school. I hope to maintain and provide them opportunities for continuing their lessons and getting their Masters and Doctorate Degrees.”

Mohammed is a modern advocate of the ancient Chinese proverb, “Women hold up half the sky”.


A Brighter Vision for the Future

What if the reason you learned to read, write, do arithmetic, and solve complex equations was not entirely self-centered? What if there were another purpose to your education? For the students of the lower-level literacy program in Afghanistan (Sewad Amausi), there is. They share a common belief that their schooling is not just for themselves, but for their children. These women are hungry for knowledge, but they look to our literacy programs to improve the lives of future generations.

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“I decided to attend the literacy course in order to become a good mother and a good wife in the future” said Shabana, a Sewad Amausi student, age 16. A chorus of voices chimed in.
“If I become literate,” said Nooria Toli, age 19, “I will be able to help my sisters in their lessons.”
“It will really help me, [to know better] how to treat my family and how to look after my children,” said Sakhida Amini, age 18.

Read more…