A mother’s will supersedes all norms

A mother’s will supersedes all norms

We have always believed that childrens’ primary human right was to be fed and clothed,

confessed Zarmina, a 28-year-old mother of two daughters. Zarmina’s elder daughter is old enough to be sent to school but Zarmina felt it wasn’t as important to educate her daughters so they stayed home with her. The family of four lived a quiet and rustic life, farming for a livelihood, on their small plot of land in their village in Qala-e-Akhund of Behsood district, Nangarhar province. The mobility of women and girls in Qala-e-Akhund village, similar to many others in the area, is restricted to the boundaries of their village.

Our community firmly believes that girls and women were born to stay within their home yards, and it is dishonourable for them to go beyond that yard for education or work,

Zarmina affirmed. Though having accepted the cultural norms, it was with a faint heart. Zarmina herself did not agree with these customs and was not happy with her community’s low aspirations for girls and women.

Community World Service Asia conducted training on Child Rights and Gender Equality in Zarmina’s village in June 2015 as part of Girls Education Project Phase IV.  Zarmina, along with fourteen other women from her village participated in this training.

For just participating in the training, we had to meet and take permission of community leaders, religious bodies and Community Development Council (CDC) members. Although it was all worth it. We learnt about child rights, gender equality, child labour, and the negative impacts of early and child marriages, the rights of the disabled and about child protection.  This was the first time us women got the opportunity to learn and discuss our views on such sensitive topics. These topics were rarely spoken of in our communities. Therefore, to be aware of them and discuss them was very informative and mind-opening for us. It was after the training that we realized that it is our responsibility to enrol our children; boys and girls, in schools and support their education process,

shared Zarmina.

After taking the training, Zarmina and her peers started taking steps to convince their husbands to allow their school-aged children to attend school. In addition, Zarmina and three other mothers who had attended the training  established a Volunteer Education Committee (VEC). Through this Committee, they took on the role of teaching other women and community members what they had learned at the Child Rights and Gender Equality training. Through brief one to one meetings and home visits, the VEC encourages families in the village to send their children to school and educate them on the negative impacts of restricting children from studying and attending school.

Zarmina and other VEC members soon realized that more than 70 percent of the families in their village were against girls’ education because of the community’s negative perceptions about educating girls. They believed that there is no need to educate girls as they will be married some day and will take care of their families. Moreover, it was a shame for a father to send his daughter to school or work; hence girls would stay within the households. However, within a year and through consistent advocacy and determination, the VEC lowered this number to about 10-15%. The families that still hesitate from sending their children to schools  cite various reasons to do so. Some of these reasons include economic constraints, long distances to schools, and in some case children’s disabilities. Overall, Zarmina and the VEC have made commendable accomplishments in increasing enrolment levels of children in their village.  Something that seemed unthinkable was made possible due to the resilience and motivation of a few mothers.

A baseline survey was conducted in January 2016 in Mehterlam district, Laghman province and Behsood and Surkhroad districts, Nangarhar province. The survey covered 22 Girls’ High Schools in 22 villages in the said districts. According to the survey, 11 percent of the interviewed CDC members, village elders, religious bodies and community members and parents favoured girls’ education while 89 percent disapproved of it. As a result of the continuous awareness raising and one to one meetings of the VEC members with the community, the End line survey exhibited an 85 percent increase in favour for girls’ education. All groups expressed their approval in sending their children to schools, especially girls.

Zarmina proudly expressed,

I really feel proud that I have been effective in serving my community and convincing my people to send their children to school. The VEC members will most certainly continue meeting community people and working for this cause. We hope that one day there will be no child out of school, not only in our community, but in the entire country.