Meet Parween: attacked because she dares to teach girls
Last year, with the help of a headteacher in North London, we shared the powerful and upsetting story of Parween – targeted just for doing her job. It was a story we knew everyone should hear, but we weren’t able to arrange for Parween to tell it herself.
Fast-forward six months, and we got our chance.
Parween started the only girls school in Lagnam province. Starting with a secret school in her home, she grew this into a school that teaches 1800 girls, with 35 teachers, working in two shifts across the day.
This incredible work has come at huge personal cost. Five years ago Parween’s son was kidnapped.
One night Parween’s husband received a phone call: ‘we want $300,000 to release your son. If your wife can open a girls’ high school, if she can afford to teach and spoil the girls, and if you can work for foreigners at the UN, you can afford to pay us the ransom.’
They didn’t have $300,000 and the kidnappers did not call again.
After 14 months of searching and waiting, they got a call. This time it was the police. Hamayoon’s body had been found by nomads in the desert. Hamayoon’s teenage body was punctuated with bullets in his chest and stomach. He had been dead for three months.
Bringing Parween to London
We got the chance to bring Parween (and ‘Dr D’, whose story we also told last year) to the UK to speak directly to British politicians about their experiences.
It’s not an easy endeavour! Take visas, for example. For an Afghan to apply for a UK visa they must first obtain a visa to visit Pakistan, and then they must apply for their UK visa in Islamabad. The wait in Islamabad is anywhere from 3 - 6 weeks - a long time to be away from your work and family in order to come to the UK for 5 days of lobby work!
It’s a girl’s right to get an education. And a teacher’s right not to be attacked for providing it.
As well as sharing her personal experiences, Parween was determined to highlight education in Afghanistan – her hopes for girls’ education, and the future.
Her message was clear. Security and a safe environment is absolutely essential for all children to be able to learn. Students need facilities, a real school building, chairs, tables, books and teachers that are well trained and well supported. Most importantly, they need to be able to work and study without fearing attacks. Parween met with NUT leaders to discuss the challenges that teachers face around the world, and how Afghan teachers could be supported by trade unions around the world.
Taking her message to Westminster
She also met with as many British politicians and civil servants as possible. In the one week that they were here, they met with members of the House of Commons and the House of Lords.
For Parween, one of the biggest things the UK can do is to improve their support of women’s rights workers from Kabul, to provide a lifeline when people like her are threatened and attacked.
‘Right now there is a lot of blood flowing in Afghanistan and a war going on. But at the same time, all these European countries are still there, the UK is still there. Do not leave us alone. We want peace in Afghanistan and we want peace for our children.
‘We want your [UK] representatives there, inside Afghanistan, in Kabul, so that if we face any problem we can go straight to them. They need to be aware of our situation'
Supporting the right to education: a message from North London to Kabul
One of Parween’s last stops in her jam-packed five days was a north London school, where students there had been learning about Afghanistan, human rights and what a privilege education is.
‘I will never forget [the visit] in my life… They received me in such a good way. The whole corridor was full of tea and cake and biscuits and things like that. They told me that they have made a quilt for our school and also they have raised some money for the school. They had received some medals from Amnesty [for fundraising]. One of the children came and gave me their medal.'
The impact of people meeting Parween is hard to put into words. Everyone that met her was visibly moved. We heard questions in Parliament and saw letters sent to the Home Office raising the issues she’d spoken so eloquently about.
But it’s a slow road to travel. At the NATO summit in September Afghanistan’s security will once again be on the agenda. But women’s voices are almost entirely shut out of the meeting, despite women like Parween and Dr D – teachers, policewomen, doctors – being at extreme risk from attacks because of their work and having valuable knowledge to share.
We need the UK and Afghan government to take women’s rights far more seriously before that can change.
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.