In a recent photo of Sadiq Agha and his daughter, Fatima, the two are sitting together comfortably in their home in Pakistan.
Look a little closer, and you will notice something rather interesting: Sadiq Agha has a pen in his pocket.
Granted, there are far stranger things to keep in one’s pocket besides a pen. But you see, Sadiq Agha is illiterate.
As an Afghan refugee in Pakistan, Sadiq was married at 18 and has worked his whole life to support his eight children. Neither he nor his wife, Raazia, have ever been to school.
Perhaps then, the pen is a bit more symbolic.
Sadiq has five sons and three daughters, and he is sending everyone who is old enough to Barakat’s Pakistan schools.
“Now one of my sons, Ali Iqbal, is enrolled in Barakat’s school. M. Javed and Ali Jaan have already graduated. Of my daughters, Marzia is in evening classes, Fatima is in the sixth grade, and Surayya is in second grade,” explained Sadiq.
Sadiq admits that for many Afghan refugees, the education of women is still controversial. Ultimately, however, it was fatherhood that changed his mind.
“I love my daughters equally as I love my sons, and this affection really gave me the strength to take a bold step. I am not educated myself, yet can understand the way education changes a person. Education will improve my daughters’ lives, whether they are in the home or outside the home. They will make decisions about their lives more confidently. I do not want to see my daughters living life like animals,” said Sadiq.
In a rigid patriarchal culture, however, he suggests that in order for more women to be educated, support from men is vital.
“In the Afghan community, men are the decision makers. And if men agree to send women to schools, no hurdles will be in their way,” said Sadiq.
But Sadiq also asserts that social norms with regard to women are slowly changing, and he is determined to be an active part of that change.
Not every Afghan man is against female education, he says.
“A country always has different kinds of people, so we have too. While living in Pakistan, a lot of people have become aware of the importance of female education as well as male education. And as far as I’m concerned, I will provide every assistance to my daughters, and they will be free to continue their education at their will,” he continued.
Although Sadiq remains unsure of his daughter’s plans for the future, he is confident that having an education will make their lives more fulfilling in every facet.
“I don’t know what my daughters will do in the future at this stage, but they can definitely live a respectable life. Even living in their homes as a wife or mother or daughter, they can bring ethical improvement and peace. I want to see my daughters to have the sense of how a respectable life is spent. How to create a balance in life, and how to be independent,” he added.
Look closely at the picture one more time, this time at Fatima. Her expression is solemn, her eyes wide and inquisitive. But there is also a hint of a smile resting softly across her lips.
By: Lisa DeBenedictis
Sometimes a picture is truly worth a 1,000 words.Or about 560, in this case.