In the U.S., we often find ourselves complaining about the quality of our schools. Whether we spend enough per student, whether teachers are teaching too many students at once, whether the cafeteria food is healthy enough, or if there are enough attention paid to languages, art and music, or extra curricular activities.
Sadly, in Afghanistan, the bigger worry appears to be “who is trying to poision young girls to keep them from getting an education?”
More than 80 schoolgirls have fallen ill in three cases of mass sickness over the past week in northern Afghanistan, raising fears that militants who oppose education for girls are using poison to scare them away from school, authorities said Sunday.
The latest case occurred Sunday when 13 girls became sick at school, Kunduz provincial spokesman Mahbobullah Sayedi said. Another 47 complained of dizziness and nausea on Saturday, and 23 got sick last Wednesday. All complained of a strange smell in class before they fell ill.
None of the illnesses have been serious, and medical officials were still investigating the exact cause. The Health Ministry in Kunduz said blood samples were inconclusive and were being sent to Kabul for further testing.
Sayedi blamed the sickness on “enemies” who oppose education for girls. Presidential spokesman Waheed Omar said any attempt to keep girls out of school is a “terrorist act.”
The Taliban and other conservative extremist groups in Afghanistan who oppose female education have been known to target schoolgirls. Girls were not allowed to attend school when the Taliban controlled most of Afghanistan until they were ousted in the 2001 U.S.-led invasion.
Of course, things could progress much further in the effort to terrorize young girls out of an education. Violence in female schools in some areas of Pakistan has increased drastically, and as of last year girls were barred from attending school all together.
“More than 30 percent [of the] girls dropped out of educational institutions in 2006 and 2007 due to speeches of [militant leader] Mullah Fazlullah on his FM radio against girls’ education,” said an official in the Swat education department, who asked not to be named to avoid becoming a target for militants.
“Half of the remaining girls dropped out or could not attend their studies due to attacks on their schools and colleges.”
Officials estimate that militants have blown up or burned 134 schools and colleges in the past year alone, more than 90 of them institutions for girls.
“Most of these schools are totally destroyed. Only 15 or 16 among them were partially damaged and could be repaired,” the education official said.
Attending school has its own dangers as well, as many remember from the infamous incident in Saudi Arabia in 2002 when 15 young girls died in a school fire when they were refused escape from the burning building because they were not wearing proper head covering.
Perhaps the greatest irony is that although the Taliban claim their religion does not allow for the education of girls, that in fact isn’t in the Quran.
Cleric Sayed Omer Munib, a member of the nation’s top Islamic council, said there was no justification in Islam’s holy book, the Quran, to prevent girls from studying.
“Nowhere in the Quran does it say that girls do not have the right to education,” he said. “It says that ‘people should be educated.’ This means girls, too.”
But education provides a girl with independence; the ability to read and write allows her to communicate with people outside of her own family, and to learn and reason. And it seems there is nothing that terrifies those who need to dominate and subjugate woman than a girl who might be able to have some semblance of independence.