News

Remember Dilara? Defying Family and Society Pressures to Put Education First

11 October 2017
Dilara in her office.

Dilara was 16 when she lost her parents. Her paternal uncle who looked after her, wanted her to get married. She didn’t. Against the odds, Dilara defied her uncle, overcame the family pressure and fought the guilt of knowing how desperately her family needed the dowry money her marriage would bring. She pursued education.

UNFPA spoke to Dilara in 2014.  What makes Dilara’s story even more incredible is that when her uncle later died, she became the only breadwinner of the family of five. Dilara, not her real name, constantly and tirelessly looked for a job and eventually found a minimum salary job at a Ministry of Public Health hospital paying just 4,000 Afghanis per month, equivalent to 58 US Dollars. That salary paid less than 60 percent of the house rent where she lived.  She worked and studied simultaneously gradually building her skills and confidence.

“No one in the house or the extended family tells me anymore that you can’t do this or that, as they used to do before”, says Dilara. “Not only that, but now more girls in my family go to school and some are even going to university as well!”.

With almost half of its population below the age of 15, (Central Statistics Organization of Afghanistan, 2016) Afghanistan is at the beginning of a transformational decade and has the potential to realise the demographic dividend. For this to happen the youth of Afghanistan require the necessary education, skills and investments to improve their lives, just as Dilara did. (Investing in Youth How to Realize Afghanistan’s Demographic Dividend, UNFPA 2016)

Despite finding a job, life continued to be difficult. In 2015, Dilara’s additional funds from a sponsor suddenly stopped “I had so much trouble, you know, I had to pay house rent, I had to pay university    fees. I was expelled from my classes 3 times for not paying 5 months fee. When I got a new job, I borrowed money from colleagues and paid my university fees” said Dilara,

Adolescent girls have the potential to be inspiring leaders, productive workers, innovators, caring parents or any of the other roles that help a society to prosper. Protecting the rights of these girls will make them empowered adults who will help empower Afghanistan. They will shape the future of their communities and that of our shared world.

Dilara is just one example of such a resilient young Afghan woman; “At times when I didn’t have money to pay local transport fare, I had to walk to University from home. I had to leave two hours before class time, so I could reach class on time,” Said Dilara. She walked approximately 8 KM for 90 minutes to attend classes, finally graduating in 2016.

New Job

Dilara has a new job where she manages 3 employees, two men and a woman. Soon after she joined her new job as a manager, the position became open to free competition, due to government reforms. Nine people, all men and some holding masters’ degrees were shortlisted for the interview. Despite some of shortlisted candidates being from important families which would give them an advantage, Dilara got the position.

Daily Life

Dilara’s story is one of determination in the face of repeated adversity. During a recent explosion in Kabul all the windows of the car she was traveling in were shuttered to pieces. “There were pieces of glass all over me. My hand got hurt. I was traumatized and couldn’t sleep for several nights. I am not afraid of anything or anyone, the only thing that frightens me is explosions that happen all of a sudden and kill you by surprise. Sometimes your relatives even can’t find a piece of you”, said Dilara.

Get Married and Have Children

Dilara talked about her plans. She wants to work now, save money so she can enroll for a masters degree in law.

“I want to have my own private law office after I have a masters degree. I never wanted to be a child bride and I don’t want that to happen to anyone. I will do all I can to get to my goal. I will help women and girls”, said Dilara.

United Nations Population Fund in Afghanistan recently supported the Deputy Ministry of Youth Affairs to develop a National Action Plan to Eliminate Early and Child Marriage (The NAP) in Afghanistan. The NAP was endorsed by the inter-ministerial committee on adolescent and youth chaired by the Second Vice President.

According to the Afghanistan Mortality Survey, 2010, 21.3 per cent of all women aged 25 – 49 were married by the age of 15 and 53.2 per cent by the age of 18. Moreover, according to the Afghanistan Demographic and Health Survey 2015, 5.2 per cent of women (age group 15 – 49) were 15 years old on their first child birth and 26.3 percent of women (age group 20 – 49) were 18 years old on their first child birth.

Early and child marriage is among the main reasons girls drop out from school and also have high maternal mortality and other pregnancy related complications such as obstetric fistula.

Elimination of early and child marriage will break the cycle of poverty and ensure that girls stay in school.

“Investing in youth, especially girls is critical since they are the backbone of the country. It is important to take action now to empower, educate and employ this generation of Afghans”, said Dr. Bannet Ndyanabangi, UNFPA representative.

“I want to get married and have children, but I still need to work hard and save money. As a kid I never had what I wanted”, said Dilara. “I never held a toy of my own in my arms. I went through a lot of hardships, but now I am happy with what I have. I want for my children what I couldn’t have myself”.

Word of Advice

“If I can get here by my own without any support, [then] why not other Afghan boys and girls. They just have to work hard. Hold on their self-esteem and stand up to hardships and move on”.

When I spoke to Dilara in 2014, she was an overly skinny young girl, with hardship and poverty etched in her face, words and in everything about her. However, when I saw Dilara in October 2017 after 3 years, she is a young lady, confident and high spirit. She stood up against child marriage, against sexism and believed in herself and her abilities. Now Dilara is enjoying the rights she fought for.

 

Ahmadullah Amarkhil