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воскресенье, 8 января 2017 г.

In Afghanistan, young women risk their lives just to go to school.

All she wants to do is learn, but this girl faces acid attacks and even death just to get an education. Fabulous reports from inside the secret classrooms set up to give the next generation a chance.

Hidden deep in the sprawl of the deprived Loy Wyalla district in Afghanistan, Delaram sits on the floor of her front room, studying hard. "My mum was a midwife," the 18 year old explains, with a maths book open in front of her. "I'd love to be one too." Her sister, Farrukh, 16, has similarly high expectations, hoping to one day achieve her dream of being a teacher in a public school.
While most teenage girls in the UK dread the words 'back to school' and would rather be watching The X Factor than studying, there's nothing more important to Delaram and Farrukh. They'd love to be able to go to a classroom every day, but for them even opening a textbook puts their lives at risk.
In a city consumed by a bitter struggle as the Taliban (an extreme political movement with close links to al-Qaeda) tries to regain power after being ousted in 2001 by British and American troops, women are still considered by some to be second-class citizens.
While officially girls can go to school, the people who still support the Taliban's strict, extremist take on Islamic laws are making it more and more dangerous.
Omar believes his daughters have a right to an education
Since 2004, Taliban rebels have been trying to reintroduce their long-standing beliefs - including the rule that woman aren't equal to men - in an attempt to turn Afghanistan into what they consider to be the world's purest Islamic country. Imagine no dancing, no TV and no make-up. A world where women must wear the burqa in public and are forbidden from working or getting an education.
While US and UK troops fight to try to keep the Taliban from regaining control, day-to-day life for girls like Farrukh and Delaram is incredibly dangerous.
They refuse to be stopped though. Despite being too scared to walk to school for fear of attack, they're clinging to their ambitions in the hope that one day their country will return to a place where women are safe to achieve their dreams.
Their father, Omar, is determined his daughters will not be denied an education. By keeping his girls at home, he's ensuring they can continue their lessons. "I couldn't let my daughters go to school because I was so scared somebody would kill them," he says.
Omar's fears aren't without terrifying grounds. In April, more than 80 young Afghan women were affected by mass sickness, following reports of gas attacks in their classrooms. And last year, 15 girls were left scarred and blinded after they were sprayed with battery acid by two men on a motorbike as they walked to school in Khandahar. Eight men were arrested and two confessed.
While the Taliban officially denied involvement, members of the group were rumoured to have moved into the outskirts of the city just before the attack. Posters had also appeared in local mosques. "Don't let your daughters go to school," one said.
Farrukh teaches her sisters and cousins at home
Heartbreakingly, Farrukh, Delaram and Omar have first-hand experience of how a desire for independence can be fatal. Just 10 months ago, Omar's wife was shot dead while she was at work. While violence is a daily reality - recent UN figures showed a 31 per cent increase in civilian deaths in Afghanistan in the past year because of Taliban activity - Omar's certain his wife was murdered because she refused to give up her job. But rather than deterring him, her death made Omar even more determined to make sure his daughters stayed safe - by letting them start their own school, hidden at home.
There's no chalkboard, computers or even desks in the makeshift school. Every morning, the girls take their places on the threadbare carpet in the cramped room at the front of their home with whatever books they've been able to get their hands on.
"It's so important we learn as much as we can," Farrukh says. "When Mum died, we decided this was the only safe way to study."
The girls use whatever books they can get their hands on
Farrukh has taken on the role of teacher, instructing Delaram as well as her two younger sisters, Rahilla, nine, and Letefa, seven, and three cousins, Zerdana, 10, Nandana, eight, and Zaeda, four. The girls cover subjects including geography, maths and history.
With the streets subject to rocket attacks and suicide bombers, Farrukh's male cousins sometimes attend classes too. But keeping this hidden classroom secret isn't without risk. Women found to be teaching or learning in secret during the Taliban's reign were jailed and tortured. And with neighbourhoods riddled with informers and people watching for signs of rule breaking, every day they spend in their classroom is an achievement.
"My cousins have to walk to our house and recently a man stole their books. Now they're scared people know they're learning," Farrukh says. "We're lucky our father is committed to us getting an education. It's still very unusual for women here. Lots of my friends aren't allowed to learn how to read or even write their name."
"The Taliban are threatening and attacking schools, pupils and teachers," says Jennifer Rowell, head of advocacy for Kabul-based humanitarian organisation CARE International. "Sometimes they'll leave a warning letter on the front door, saying that if people continue to teach, they'll be harmed. They have also carried out arson attacks, burning schools down at night, and have even assassinated teachers.
"Communities live in fear. Even in villages that haven't been attacked there is still a sense that they might be. This is why there has been an increase in home schooling."
Rahilla is taught at home by her sister
Life for women in Afghanistan hasn't always been so restrictive. The girls' mother lived through very different times. Before the Taliban took control in 1994, girls were even encouraged to go to university, so women held jobs as teachers, doctors and civil servants. They presented the TV news, went to beauty salons and could choose whether they wore the burqa in public or not.
But under the Taliban's regime, everything changed. Women were forbidden from leaving home unless they were accompanied by a male relative and, when they did go out, they had to be covered from head to toe. Denied an education and refused health care, kidnap, rape and public executions ensured women towed the line.
Then in 2001, when allied forces defeated the Taliban, the situation once again became more liberated as girls were encouraged to return to work and school. Many tried, but violent opposition from the Taliban persisted.
As a result, in 2006, 74 per cent of girls in Afghanistan dropped out of education before they finished primary school. While marriage and family problems were given as reasons, for many it was simply down to fear. Only 13 per cent of women in the country are literate.
The family's underground school is just one of many defying threats of violence to give girls an education. In a front room in the suburb of Majburabad, 18-year-old Hasti is also risking her life - she bravely attends lessons in the morning, before home schooling children too scared to attend public classes in the afternoon.
"I walk to and from school fully covered in my burqa," she explains. "I cover my books up too and hope that anyone watching will just think I'm going shopping. I try to go a different way every day to stop people following me. I know some of the girls who were attacked with acid, and other friends have had their books stolen at the school gates."
In the afternoon, Hasti walks for an hour to get to her secret school, situated in a family's home and hidden behind high gates. Here, she teaches six girls aged between 12 and 18. But why does she put herself in danger?
The children are forced to study in secret
"My father is also a teacher," she says. "He supports my education and he's the reason I do this. Dad knows the importance of educating women and encouraged me to teach."
Hasti earns 2,000 Afghan Afghanis (£30) a month for risking her life. "I've not trained as a teacher, but I have a good education," she says. "I'm not doing it for the money, just to share my knowledge with other girls."
Organisations, like CARE International, are helping to set up new schools. "CARE currently supports over 100,000 children to have an education every day, says Jennifer Rowell. "Once things are more stable, we will be able to hand the running of the schools back to the government."
After her stint as a secret teacher, Farrukh hopes to continue her career in education. "I like helping other people," she says. "It's so important that we can read and write. I want to learn to speak English one day and teach it to others. I hope things will get better here. I want my little sisters to be able to go to school without being scared they'll be attacked. I want them to be able to walk down the street safely."
Hasti is equally single-minded. "Afghanistan used to be a very developed country, where men and women were equal," she says. "I think extremists are threatened by educated women. But we're part of this country's future. We deserve knowledge like anyone else."

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