Photo Essay

In this girls' world

Girls' classroom in Afghanistan 2

Between June and July 2009, I had the opportunity to travel to Afghanistan. I had desired to visit this country for more than 3 years. Everyday we are overwhelmed by terrifying news about Afghanistan, so I was asked many times why I wanted to go there. There were many reasons, including personal ones, and the more I read about Afghanistan, the more I saw photos of its beautiful natural scenery and people, especially women and children, the stronger was my eagerness. I also wanted to meet Afghan women and girls and hear from them their views on the current situation of women in Afghanistan.

I knew that as a woman it would be relatively easy for me to have access to Afghan women. Still, I felt lucky to travel to the north and northeast of the country and become friends with an Afghan girl. Through her I met several other Afghan women including farmers and a woman with a prominent position in a regional office of an international organization, who invited me to visit a girls' school.

The school was located in a valley in one of the most sublime landscapes I have ever seen and separated from the nearest town by a rugged path that the girls walk every morning to attend their classes. In a one-story building with big widows there were several classrooms with grey and pink dilapidated walls and worn out school tables covered with Dari handwriting. Even if the conditions of the school were not the best, these girls were grateful for being there.

Despite some recent progresses in Afghan women's rights, Afghanistan is still one of the hardest countries in the world to be born a woman. Over the last years women have been allowed to return back to work and girls to school. The government no longer forces them to wear the all-covering burqa and it is now acceptable to see a woman as a politician. However, even if private family affairs are traditionally considered to be a women's responsibility, many men still restrict their own mothers, wives, daughters and sisters from participation in public life. A big percentage of Afghan girls are still forced into marriages and deprived of formal education. Numerous schools for girls have been burned down and female students have even been attacked with acid for daring to go to school, especially in the southern and eastern provinces. Female teachers have been intimidated and kidnapped. Gunmen have broken into schools, gathered dog-eared schoolbooks and threw them into flames.

Regardless of the difficulties Afghan girls have faced when trying to pursue their education, many of them still believe it is their duty and right to be educated. Despite the threats and worries about their daughters' security, many families are happy that their girls go to school. In a mountainous northern province, I saw an old farmer telling my Afghan friend that education is essential for the country's development and that he wished that both Afghan girls and boys received a proper education.

One of the best feelings I had while travelling in Afghanistan was to realize that even considering the oppression Afghan women have endured, and probably due to the same oppression, the women I met in Afghanistan always looked strong and determined, not pitiful. According to them, discrimination against women and girls is finally becoming a topic of discussion in Afghanistan and it is possible now to hear and read about it. There is still a long way to go for Afghan women and girls to be valued throughout the country as individuals with inherent human rights, but, slowly, women in Afghanistan are becoming aware of their rights. When listening to these women, I felt hopeful that a day will come when all Afghan girls will be allowed to go to school with no more fear.

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14 responses

  • Mikka Tokuda-Hall

    Mikka Tokuda-Hall gave props (5 Sep 2009):

    fascinating, evocative shots! an amazing story and photo essay.

  • ! Mario Scattoloni ¡

    ! Mario Scattoloni ¡ gave props (9 Sep 2009):

    Beauty is found in the simplest of moments & places. Great Portrait´s & series. Vot´d

  • kombizz kashani

    kombizz kashani said (9 Sep 2009):

    nice story

  • Daniel Iván

    Daniel Iván said (9 Sep 2009):

    Absolutely inspiring. This is not only a great series of photos, but a good example on how human, sensitive and daring photo journalism can be. Fantastic!

  • Camil Seisanu

    Camil Seisanu gave props (11 Sep 2009):

    F A B U L O U S story !

  • Teresa Nabais

    Teresa Nabais said (17 Sep 2009):

    Thank you all :)!

  • Jens Kornacker

    Jens Kornacker gave props (28 Oct 2009):

    a fascinating story!

  • John Linton

    John Linton gave props (11 May 2010):

    Hell YEAH! Rad!

  • Scott Pugh

    Scott Pugh gave props (27 Oct 2010):

    Beautifully written and photographed. I was in Afghanistan in 2002 while in the military and to see stories like this always deeply affects me. There is a long way to go yet for the Afghan people but I am always glad to hear that progress has been made there. Thank you for this.

  • Jean Pierre Vacherot

    Jean Pierre Vacherot (Deleted) gave props (31 Oct 2010):


  • Gail Parker

    Gail Parker gave props (1 Nov 2010):

    Excellent story, long may this continue, i fear it's 50/50 at best.

  • Roxana Brivent-Barnes

    Roxana Brivent-Barnes said (4 Nov 2010):

    Is a wonderful nation with some rotten ruts, but many are wonderful, voted!

  • Isabelle Dethier

    Isabelle Dethier gave props (10 Dec 2010):

    Thanks for witnessing, voted!

  • ! ! !glen Cohen! ! !

    ! ! !glen Cohen! ! ! said (2 Jan 2011):

    you are such a brave woman

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