Acid Attack: An attempt to stop female education.
In a distance of only one km from my home to school in Kabul, it was sometimes so hard for me as if, instead of going to school, I was walking on a ground full of thorns. However, fortunate as it was, I’ve finally managed to finish my school. But what about the majority of girls in Afghanistan? Girls who have been suffering from the time they got to know that they are a girl until the time when they got into the occasion of knowing what it means to be a girl and what are the rules, regulations, policies, challenges, problems, issues and stereotypes about being a girl in Afghanistan?
Shamsia, 17, was on her way to school with her sister, Atifa, 16, and 13 other students, when they were sprayed with acid on their faces by some unknown, covered men, who firstly asked them the “ordinary question” of “Are you going to school?” near to Mirwais School for Girls in Kandahar, Afghanistan.
Mirwais School which is one of the only girl’s schools in Kandahar remained closed for around one week after this attack. However, after the hard work and extreme efforts of Mr. Qaderi, the school’s headmaster, who have tried to arrange meetings with the parents of students, the school finally started again and gradually students also started to continue to their fearful, but hopeful journey towards the path of knowledge and wisdom.
"I don't know why they did it," she Atifa. "Kandahar is not safe. But we can't stay at home. We want an education."
Despite knowing the fact that it is really unsafe and troubling for girls to educate in a place where there are thousands of obstacles that can stop girls from getting educated and raising their voices, girls still strive and struggle for education. This is one of the bravest and triumphant stories of these brave girls, who in spite of getting into so much trouble, which could even result in the cost of their lives, are still continuing to get education and reconstruct their countries.
In fact, some time right after the fall of Taliban in 2001, the majority of Afghan parents and families still did not allow their daughters to get educated or to go to school due to the brainwashing efforts by the Taliban. This was accomplished through convincing people that education was neither a rule nor necessary for girls in Islam. However, nowadays, we are witness to the fact that most of the parents are finally fed up and are tired of accepting this wrong, baseless concept.
A great example to that would be Shamsia’s parents and relatives, who despite the attack on their daughters, still allowed them to go to school and get educated.
“My parents told me to keep coming to school even if I am killed,” said Shamsia.
Comparing Shamsia and the other 14 victim girls’ lives to my life in Afghanistan, I see no difference except the fact that I had been waiting for something to happen to me, but in their case, it really did happen.
In any case, I remember my days going to school, especially the last two years which were the hardest. Every time coming out of home or school, I was wondering whether I would safely reach the other safe place, whether this would be the last day of my life, whether I might be the next blameless victim of these brutalities.
After the hard efforts to stop girls from school, these cruel enemies still did not sit silent, and rather tried to make more troubles for girls in schools.
In the previous years, at several occasions, poisonous gas was sprayed inside many girl’s schools in Kandahar, Parwan, Kapisa, and Kabul which resulted in infirmity of many students and teachers in the schools.
Acid throwing attacks have been increasing “in a number of Asian countries including Pakistan, India, Afghanistan, Cambodia and Bangladesh” in the last several years. Even though the targets are usually the same, women, in these attacks, the purposes differ according to the attacker’s aim.
“Case studies in Bangladesh show that the victims of acid violence had done absolutely nothing wrong. The perpetrator had low self-esteem and was hurt by her rejection or her family’s refusal of his marriage proposal. Not all men throw acid.” said Dr. Saira Rahman Khan, a human rights lawyer in Bangladesh.
This shows that the aim behind the acid attack is different from country to country. Acid attacks happen to girls in Bangladesh due to either refusal of sexual advances, rejection of a marriage proposal, land dispute, or dowry demands.
In Bangladesh acid attacks happen more frequently than in Afghanistan. According to Acid Survivors Foundation’s estimation, in Bangladesh there were around 115 acid attacks in 2010.
Afghanistan was witness to this attack only once, on November 12th, 2008 when some unknown men sprayed acid upon 15 school girls in Afghanistan. This clarifies that acid attacks happen in Afghanistan in order to prevent girls from getting education. This was in fact the first time that an acid attack occurred by some unknown men in Afghanistan. All the 15 girls were badly injured and sent to hospitals for emergency treatment, but what remained as a harsh memory to them were the scars on their innocent faces. After some investigation on this part, the Afghan government considered this attack to be an act of those opposed to girl’s education in Afghanistan.
Since the beginning of the Taliban government, girls were not allowed to go to school or get educated because of the concept that Taliban had about female education in Islam. The Taliban thought that Muslim females should not be educated. Although the Taliban government fell apart in 2001, still this concept remained in the thoughts of many in Afghanistan, and this resulted in continuation of the same concept in majority of the families.
However this concept has been vanishing through the course of time in many open-minded families. This huge improvement and the sign of an upcoming bright future for girls have provoked the enemies to start taking action. Finally, these enemies have thought of new ways to prevent girls, such as creating fear in their souls, spraying acid, using poisonous gas, warning them through posting posters that have the slogan “Don’t Let Your Daughters Go to School,” setting schools on fire, destroying school buildings and so on.
Even though the government has arrested 10 men, who were supposed to be involved in the acid attack, still the enemies did not stop their dreadful actions. As mentioned earlier, poisonous gas was spread in many schools in the capital as well as some other provinces.
These situations might continue in the future as well, but according to Abdul Ershad, a retired police officer in Afghanistan, the security has been better than before in the last six months.
“Due to the steady resolution and reconsideration of the security situation inside the country, every time, police plots and sections increase in all corners in order to get control of situation.” said Mr. Ershad.
According to Mr. Ershad, there are three different segments working in maintaining security and safety in Afghanistan. These segments are National Army, Governmental security, and Police.
“Even though the police’s job is to investigate crimes and criminals, several police members are being killed each day either in a fight with Taliban or in trying to arrest the suicidal bomb attackers.” said Mr. Ershad.
This is something we should consider while thinking about how to prevent violence against school girls including acid attack or the spread of poisonous gas in schools. The general insecurity in the overall country has a great impact on this issue. As “police’s job is to investigate crimes,” sometimes police is not able to do this duty due to its all time efforts in keeping the general security. Therefore, while endeavoring to keep the general security, small common attacks on school girls remain untouched. Even if the police attempts to investigate and bring out this issue, still they cannot put an end to it due to the big scale problems such as bomb attacks, suicidal attacks, civil war between the Taliban and the government, and many more.
Overall, the case of acid attack in Afghanistan can only be removed by trying to arrest the criminals behind the scene, encouraging more girls to go to schools in order to show the enemies that we are not to give up at any cost, and by keeping the general security as a whole.
On the other side, ways to prevent acid attacks differ in Bangladesh as the reason behind doing these attacks also differ.
“Due to campaigns by women’s rights organizations, an amendment was made in 1984, in the Penal Code and a new section added – section 326A, which provides punishment for ‘voluntarily causing grievous hurt in respect of eyes, head or face by means of corrosive substance, etc. Later on, in 2002, two laws were promulgated: The Acid Crime Control Act and the Acid Control Act. The first one deals with the crime of acid violence and punishments. The Suppression of Repression against Women and Children Act of 2000 also contains provisions for acid violence.” said Ms. Khan.
Apart from these attempts, there has also been another reaction to these attacks. One of them is the creation of ASF (Acid Survivors Foundation) which is an organization aimed to eliminate acid violence in Bangladesh.
“Men need to be gender sensitized at a young age. Respect for women as mothers and sisters must start from the home, just as the father must respect the mother. The issue of ‘masculinity’ also needs to be addressed in a more gender friendly manner. Violence against women usually stems from lack of respect and low social morale. One of the campaigns run by the Acid Survivors Foundation has the title “Only Cowards Throw Acid”. That is a good starting point!!” said Ms. Khan.
In fact, acid attacks in Bangladesh have been one of the ways to take revenge from girls in Bangladesh. This is all due to the way males are socialized as Ms. Khan also emphasizes on this. Consequently, in order to decrease or diminish these attacks, men should be socialized through the ways that they might get the habit of respecting women to its full extent.
Even though some days after the acid attack in Kandahar, there was not a student inside the Mirwais school, days later, more students started to come to school than ever before. Donations from all over the world were also donated to the construction and improvement of this school.
Besides that, several other steps have been taken both globally and inside Afghanistan in order to lessen acid violence as well as building more schools as a sign of braveness, and consistency of women.
“The Global Fund for Women at Cornell University is currently studying acid violence. They have completed their report and it will be published at the end of this month.” said Ms. Khan making sure to clarify the importance of this issue and its solutions in all over the globe.
By July 13th, 2010, the governor of Kandahar, Toryalai Weesa, signed a contract with \ the director of a private construction company to built seven schools in Kandahar province.
Aside from these governmental approaches towards facilitating education for girls, there have also been some organizations and NGOs, which are trying to build schools for girls and educating them. One of these organizations is the Central Asia Institute whose aims are to promote education for Afghanistan and Pakistan students, especially girls. Greg Mortenson, the executive director of the Central Asia Institute, has built over 131 schools in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
As the army and police have been trained day by day, security is also getting better according to Mr. Ershad.
These all as a whole show the huge improvement towards girls’ education and security in Afghanistan. One more will be contributed by me as well.
This article is part of a writing assignment for Voices of Our Future, which is providing rigorous web 2.0 and new media training for 30 emerging women leaders. We are speaking out for social change from some of the most unheard regions of the world.