Editor in Chief: Moh. Reza Huwaida Tuesday, January 22nd, 2019

Afghanistan’s Rigid Cultural Norms; A Serious Challenge for Girls’ Education (Part 3)

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Afghanistan’s Rigid Cultural Norms; A Serious Challenge for Girls’ Education (Part 3)

Cultural discrimination against women includes those differences of treatment that exist because of stereotypical expectations, attitudes, and behaviors towards women. The findings of the Special Rapporteur demonstrate that stereotype about women’s role within the family leads to a division of labor within households that often result in poverty for women and lower levels of education. A stereotype is harmful when it limits women’s capacity to enhance their personal abilities, pursue their professional careers and make decisions about their lives. The view that rearing children is women’s responsibility, is a negative gender stereotype among the families and communities.  Likewise, in Afghanistan, because of the predominant cultural and gender norms among the families and communities, boys’ education in the majority of families is given priority to girls’ education, or girls’ education is not generally of interest or is acceptable merely for a limited period.
Women in Afghanistan are discriminated because of dominant beliefs of patriarchy from childhood, even before birth. And part of the reason that Afghan girls are experiencing severe gender discrimination is pertaining to the dominant discriminatory cultural norms among the communities in Afghanistan. They are born with discrimination and die with discrimination. Lack of public awareness of human rights standards, low levels of literacy, poverty, incorrect traditions, lack of laws that support the presence and participation of women in society are among the factors that increase discrimination and, as a result, deprive women of their rights and freedoms. According to Kristensen (2016), 70 % of the women whom the author interviewed said that they experienced discrimination in different manners. Many of the women whom the author interviewed had unique stories about their lives – how their brother was free to choose the education he wanted, while they were not permitted, either for economic reasons or because they had to get married instead. One of the stories that Kristensen cites from her interviewees is extremely shocking – “When I was little my parents had a bad financial situation. So, they just sent my brother to school, said you’re a girl. Girls do not need to go to school, because, finally they do marry, and they don’t need to learn.” In a traditional country like Afghanistan, women and girls are suffering from gender discriminations against them that are mainly rooted in the cultural norms of their communities and the gender stereotypes of men toward women.
Girls’ Education and the Dominated Patriarchal Codes: Social scientists define patriarchy as the power of man over women. They argue that patriarchy refers to males’ ideology, privileges, and other principles are perceived for subjugating the females’ roles and functions in the societies.  Patriarchal societies are known for marginalizing the feminine. They typically ignore or trivialize what is concerned with feminine characteristics.
Given the above definition, a country like Afghanistan that has a strong patriarchal attitude toward womanhood. In Afghanistan, because of the predominance of patriarchal attitudes and behaviour in families and communities, the power of patriarchy regulates all relationships by means of education, and it serves the interests of the patriarchal society. Therefore, equal opportunities for women and men are not provided in the social, political, economic, and educational spheres. Men can easily implement their projects in different areas, but women will face a lot of problems in the same arena. In the patriarchal society like Afghanistan, the cultural norms do not provide women with equal opportunities for gaining education and working outside the home. Thus, women are left marginalized.
Since education as an important tool in the relationship of power, it can be the root stone of gender inequality in traditional society, and women are the main victims of this gender inequality. Afghanistan, as the country with the most patriotic power in the political, economic and social spheres, some prevents and communities either by cultural means or on the basis of the patriarchal principles deprive girls from their basic human right – gaining education. Additionally, women are not counted as members of society as their men counterparts, and it has been embodied in some communities due to the control of education by patriarchal society. So, as education is an important tool that can question the values and norms of patriarchal society over the long term, communities’ elders and family’s decision makers (males) knowingly ignore girl’s education.
Conclusion and Recommendations
Cultural barriers are one of the main obstacles to the growth and spread of girls’ education in Afghanistan. A large part of these cultural norms is learned through the process of socialization that shapes our lives. In this context, one of the most important ways of development and transformation in each society is to challenge and ignore the norms that for various reasons are no longer responsive and meaningful for a group or stratum. Without breaking the norms of the old, the divine, the one-sided, the unequal and the incompatible with the style and the modern conditions of life in the contemporary world, the society is dying and ruining. The key to the dynamism and transformation of a society and culture is based on the critical and challenging approach toward the value systems and norms of that society. This process starts with the breakdown of the norm and ends with the transformation of values.
Studies and researches demonstrate that educating people can play a significant role in the transformation of cultural norms and rigid cultural values. Since in Afghanistan mostly girls are the victims of these rigid cultural norms, educating them can be one of the best and most effective ways to eliminate discrimination and gender inequalities. Because when girls gain education, skills, and, the capabilities required for their presence in the society, they can fight with the political, economic, social, gender, and educational inequalities in their living communities. The Afghan Ministry of Education as a responsible entity in providing education should pay close attention to the education and training of girls and women and provide special programs in this regard. These actions require that certain mechanisms should be created by the Ministry of Education and other relevant entities for fighting with the predominant rigid cultural norms that impede girls from gaining education. In addition to government responsible entities, educating girls is one of the best investments that families and communities themselves can make it happen because educated girls, for example, marry later, will have healthier children, earn more money that they invest back into their families and communities, and play more active roles in leading their communities and families. 
All in all, the findings of the current research indicate that preventing girls from going to school on the basis of cultural norms prevailing in communities, been a major cause of child marriage, violence against women, discrimination against women and girls, and gender inequality in Afghanistan. Therefore, I would argue that Afghan families instead of halting their girls from going to school and keeping them at home, should fight with the predominant cultural norms that underlie their interpretation of girl’s education. They should help their daughters obtain education so that they can help the other girls who may encounter the same fate in the future. Escaping from the problems either social problems, cultural problems, or economic is not a rational solution, instead, facing and fighting with them can help the entire communities to secure their well-being and development in the societies. Therefore, families should help their daughters gain education and provide them with equal opportunities as their sons. 

Hamidullah Bamik is a Fulbright Scholar and Graduate Student in Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis, University of Missouri-Columbia, USA. he can be reached at hamidullahbamik@mail.missouri.edu

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