Walking into a 9th grade classroom in Barakat’s Besh Kapa Surkh School located in a small district of Jowzjan province in remote Northern Afghanistan you may well be taken aback to hear a female teacher speaking frankly on the taboo subject of forced under-age marriages of young girls in the area. In her own words, the young teacher told Barakat staff:
“I spoke about forced marriages; my students were ignorant about it, but after hearing about this subject, there has been a change in their mind-set. For example, in my village, there was going to be a forced marriage. After talking to the bride and informing her of her rights in the constitutional laws, the matter was resolved and the forced marriage was avoided. ”
This would not have been the case three years back when Barakat first started implementing Workshops on Teacher Training for Human Rights, with special emphasis on Women & Children’s Rights – the minority, marginalized populations that Barakat is dedicated to serving.
A total of 21 workshops reaching out to 404 teachers and trainers from Barakat educational programs as well as from Government schools and district-level Departments of Education have made an impact which today is felt in the classroom by students – both boys and girls alike.
Barakat has partnered with the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission to do these workshops and has been funded over the last three years by the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee. Our efforts with these partners continue to flourish and we are proud that 56% of the total number of teachers that we have reached out to is female.
In a bid to understand what the workshops translated into in real-life teaching-learning situations, Barakat conducted numerous focus group interviews in May of this year with a random selection of teachers who had participated in the human rights teacher training workshops at some point since June 2008 when these were first started. The findings were revealing as to the extent of the impact that these workshops have had – not just in terms of the content-based knowledge with which teachers are now armed; but also in terms of their level of confidence in speaking about human rights issues both inside and out of the school room.
The topics that they choose to bring up in the classroom vary and are adapted by the teachers for the age of the target audience. While one teacher recalled teaching about ethnic relations among the complex and diverse society of Afghanistan the other focused on equality in Islam:
“I taught about discrimination in my class, because in Islam, all people enjoy equal rights whether they are wealthy or poor, nobody can claim superiority over others. For example, all people on the face of earth are created by God. ”
While Barakat’s human rights workshops cover a variety of topics from the Constitutional protection of human rights in the fledgling democracy of Afghanistan to the international human rights conventions ratified or ignored by the country’s government; the spotlight is on the rights of women and children – the section of the population that has been traditionally kept silent. It is our hope that focusing on issues such as forced marriages; the right to inheritance for females; children’s right to education and against child labor will speak loudly through the voices of the teachers, as has been the case indeed:
“I taught about women’s rights and girls’ rights to education, because in my class there was a girl whose parents were preventing her from continuing her education due to her age. I asked for her address from her classmates and I paid a visit to her family. They were happy to see me, and after talking with them, they allowed their daughter to return to school. ”