“Traditionally, they say it is offensive for a woman to work outside of the home and earn money to support her family,” explains Zahida. Now an accomplished teacher at the Mesha Khail Girls High School in Afghanistan, these cultural norms once left her with no choice but to abandon her dream of teaching.
“I had already discussed my ambitions with my family numerous times, convincing them to allow me to pursue a career as a teacher.” After graduating from high school, she applied for a position, completed the formal process, and was soon hired.
But two months after joining the school, Zahida got married. Her new husband, Khan Agha, who had previously accepted her decision to work, now worried what friends and relatives would think. He didn’t want them to assume he couldn’t provide for his family or was allowing his wife to work only to spend the money she earned.
“I had lost my happiness and felt my life was ruined,” she recalls. In front of students and teachers, Zahida cried as she submitted her resignation.
Changing Cultural Attitudes About the Role of Women
PWS&D’s girls education project in Afghanistan not only works to raise awareness about the importance of education for all children, but has far reaching implications for girls and women beyond the classroom.
By mobilizing public support, working closely with influential community leaders, and providing vital education about human rights, the cultural expectations placed on women are also being re-examined. This is helping create new opportunities for women and girls—including offering the support needed to explore fulfilling careers outside of the home.
“I believe we need to be proud of women who are working and taking part in the development of our country. Especially teachers, because they are the ones who pave the ground for our daughters,” says Ghulam Ali, leader of the community development council.
A Joyful Return to Work
After discussing Zahida’s departure, members of the parents and teachers committee, along with Ghulam, met with Khan Agha’s family to see if they would permit Zahida to return to the school. They explained that it was not shameful for a woman to work as she was helping support her family and students.
Khan Agha’s family agreed and Zahida resumed her position at the school.
“Returning to school was a very happy day for me. Teaching is not just a job for me, but it is my dream to help children learn, read and write. The day I resigned, I really did not know how I would continue the rest of my life. Now, through the support of this project, I once again am living my dream,” shares Zahida.
Girls' Education in Afghanistan Information Sheet