If I was Parween, I would want to know that people cared
Education is the greatest tool we have to empower young people to improve their life chances and help them to become catalysts for change in their communities. This is a belief held very strongly by colleagues at my school, where many of our young women face multiple disadvantages.
But the challenges we face seem to pale in comparison when I hear of the dangers faced by schoolgirls and those who teach them in a country like Afghanistan, where just over ten years ago girls’ education was outlawed altogether. That seems incomprehensible for us in the UK, and I know the girls at my school would be incredulous at the thought of being denied education. They know that education is their key to a better future.
The thought that our pupils could be poisoned or gassed, or our teachers attacked, just because our aim is to empower young women, is unfathomable to me. And yet these are the very real dangers faced by my professional colleagues in Afghanistan.
When I read Parween’s story, I was moved to do something to support Amnesty’s campaign. I can’t imagine receiving death threats, or my family being threatened, because of my job. If I was Parween, would I have the strength and courage to continue? I can’t answer that question, but I know that Parween’s strength and dedication to the cause of girls’ education left me in awe. If she is willing to continue fighting for girls’ empowerment in the face of such danger, shouldn’t we, wherever we are in the world, support her?
If I was Parween, I would want to know that people cared about my work and the injustice I had suffered. Most of all I would want to know that something was being done. The UK government has played such a significant role in Afghanistan over the past decade; I hope they will do all they can to ensure the women now in employment all over the country are supported to continue their work.
The request from Amnesty to take part in the film above came out of the blue. As a head teacher, I avoid doing anything which might be seen as political but Parween’s story had a profound effect.
It is a pure accident of birth that I work in the safety of north London whilst Parween does the same job under constant threat to her and her family in Afghanistan. Yet I am sure that there there is more that unites us than separates us. We both believe in the fundamental importance of education for young women and know that what we do will help the next generation to create a better world.
Schools are places where notions of justice and injustice can be explored, where young people can be encouraged to speak out and to stand up for what is right. I would be a very poor role model, if I did not speak out in Parween’s words to support the women of Afghanistan who face such an uncertain future.
Jo Dibb is Head Teacher of Elizabeth Garrett Anderson school in Islington, London
Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.