Book of Marvels
Monday, October 16, 2006
Turning a Corner

That's what we were doing, turning a corner, trying to avoid yet another Kabul traffic jam, when we came upon a street filled with all these lovely girls in white scarves. "What are they doing?" I asked Debbie.

"Going to school," she said, as if this were an ordinary thing.

But of course, it's still not ordinary in Afghanistan. Girls are allowed to go to school again, but only some of them, only in some areas of the country. I just read a report saying that 1.2 million primary-school-age girls are not going to school. And I've read plenty of reports of girls schools out in rural areas being bombed, and of principals of girls schools being executed.

I had to deepen my statistical knowledge of women in Afghanistan recently because a local private girls school asked me to speak at at their symposium on education. They wanted me to talk about the Kabul Beauty School and about what I learned when I stayed there to help Debbie Rodriguez work on her book. I had plenty of stories about the women who have come through the school--heartwrenching stories of their lives in wartime, under the Taliban, as refugees, and now-- in these still difficult days. But I didn't know a lot of the numbers, not by heart, so I spent a day going through articles and reports that I get in a daily email.

It's such a tough country for women.

Between 60-80 percent of marriages are forced on the women, often to settle feuds or repay debts.

About 57% of the girls are married before the age of 16, even though 16 is the legal age.

Hundreds of women set themselves on fire every year in despair over terrible marriages. Many are sent to prison because they try to escape their husbands some other way.

85% of Afghan women are illiterate. The number of girls going to school is half that of boys.

And then there was this article that said, "By the end of the year at least 30 percent of seats on all public buses in Afghanistan will be reserved for women under a United Nations-backed programme launched in a country where drivers now speed past stops if only women are waiting while men refuse to give up seats for women..."

They had to legislate women's right to a seat on the bus. It's so awful that it's almost funny, but of course, it's not funny.

I've come to know several Afghan-American women-- mostly online, a few in person--who are back in Afghanistan working on various programs to try to salvage their country. They're tough, tenacious, amazing women. I guess they have to be. Posted by Picasa
It is a tough country for women. I didn't know about the buses. I used to go on the buses 3 years ago. I'd still go but I'd be afraid of suicide bombers.

I don't think of myself as tough but yeah, it's hard to find the right balance of strength to get things done there.

I'm glad you're speaking about Afghanistan - we need as much publicity to keep things going. And tell them that we need the troops to stay.
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