This woman felt that her mother influenced her by being strong, by being someone who could stand against the traditional misconceptions about women. She said her ambitions for engineering, which is still a very unconventional field, were connected to her mother's role. In her current job, she resented the fact that she could not practice engineering in the field and was instead confined to an office with a lot of clerical work.

For women in the study, mothers still portrayed the culturally appropriate image of a woman.

Whether having literate and educated mothers was the main inspiration for these two women to choose unconventional professions, and whether their mothers influenced them to be more career-oriented than the rest of the group, is not very clear. The engineer also has a sister who is a doctor. However, both of them talked more about their fathers than they did about their mothers; both said that their fathers were supportive and were their favorite parent. The doctor said: "My mother has been a career woman and was always bossy and dominant at home. She has sacrificed us and my father for her curiosity and career; she is always traveling. I want to get married and be a mother who can give all the affection of a mother to her children and home." The attitude that a career is important, but not better than being a devoted mother, was also expressed by other women in the study.

For the remaining women of the study (whose mothers were not educated), mothers still portrayed the culturally appropriate image of a woman. Whether these women liked the image or not, it created a conflict in their minds. They visualized their future role differently from that of their mothers' present role. The difference was manifested in their education, work in the public sphere, and occupational alternatives. These educated women will influence their daughters when they grow and become the second generation of educated women in Afghanistan.

Education is still a rare opportunity for Afghan women. The women in my study obtained education either by the fortune of having an open minded father, or through determined will power. Yet they remain marginal in Afghan society and vulnerable to its changes. They cannot stabilize their educated status upon an earlier generation of educated mothers and sisters. They have been the generation to fight to gain education, and the generation to lose it during a turn for the worse in their political history.

Today, after a few decades of education and work, they have been thrown out of offices and schools by the supreme court of their country. Although this marginal population of educated working women could not stem the upheaval of this backward tide, they would certainly be part of a movement for establishing women's place in the mainstream of society, where education, work, and participation in society are not "given" to women, but are integrated into their identity as a right of the individual.

Sharifa Sharif was born in Kabul, Afghanistan. She studied literature at the University of Kabul and received an M.A. and M.Ed. from the University of Illinois. She returned to Afghanistan in the aftermath of the Soviet invasion to conduct doctoral research among educated and uneducated working women. It took six years for her to exit the country safely with the data intact, and she successfully defended her dissertation in May of 1994.


Une éducation derrière le voile: les femmes en Afghanistan

par Sharifa Sharif

Il y a un an, la Cour suprême d'Afghanistan a voté une déclaration, en vertu de laquelle les femmes ne pourraient plus travailler dans des bureaux et toutes les écoles de femmes seraient fermées. Selon le gouvernement, c'étaient des centres de prostitution et d'adultère.

En Afghanistan, l'éducation des femmes fait l'objet de conflits, les croyances modernes s'opposant aux croyances traditionnelles. Selon qu'une femme décide de se conformer aux normes culturelles ou de s'en écarter, elle honore la communauté ou au contraire elle l'éclabousse de honte. L'éducation d'une fille devient une question culturelle, sur laquelle tout le monde a le droit d'exprimer son opinion, sauf la principale intéressée. En Afghanistan, la plupart des femmes se heurtent à beaucoup d'adversité pour obtenir une éducation. Certaines fréquentent secrètement l'école. Celles qui sont découvertes sont battues ou enfermées. Même les atouts économiques que les femmes éduquées peuvent représenter dans le monde du travail ne sont pas pris au sérieux, voire rejetés. Bien que ce soit en général les pères qui s'opposent à ce que leurs filles et femmes reçoivent de l'instruction, ce sont toutefois eux qui, s'ils sont larges d'esprit, tirent parti de leur prestige et privilèges pour faciliter les études de leurs filles.

S'il est difficile aux Afghanes de s'opposer à la déclaration de la Cour suprême d'il y a un an, elles attendent avec impatience la création d'un mouvement qui donnerait aux femmes leur place dans une société où l'éducation et le travail sont un droit individuel inconditionnel.

  1. Translated from Sharia (Islamic law), Declaration about Seclusion and Veil, Supreme Court of the Islamic Government of Afghanistan, September 25, 1993.
  2. The same phrase is used in Iran: "Go into your husband's home is a white wedding gown and come out in a white shroud."
  3. There was a nationwide exam for university enrolment called concur. Successful applicants were admitted to different colleges according to their scores and choices.
  4. Reference to the Hateth: "It is the duty of every Muslin woman and man to learn."


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