Childhood is a time for dreams and dreaming big. When I was younger, I had no worries. Everything was easy; I thought everyone was honest. I had a dream to be a boxer—to have lots of power and to punch and to gain fame and pride for my country and family.

In those days I was a fan of Muhammad Ali—the world champion boxer. When I watched his matches on our 20-inch television, I enjoyed it when one person hit the other and the audience clapped for a winner.

As I get older, time has shown me that there is a big gap between childhood vision and real life. Now I know that to be a boxer you should be tall. Otherwise when you get punched you will end up with a broken face. I am not tall and I am not made for boxing. But in childhood dreams we don’t have to consider all the obstacles, all the potentials and side effects.

When I was thirteen, I woke up from my childhood and stepped into the real world of challenges. In Afghanistan the most important consideration is our culture. In our society a girl is not going to be considered a “good girl” if she crosses cultural barriers. In a typical Afghan family, it is much more important to uphold the family reputation than for dreams to be fulfilled.

Our reality today is that girls may dream of their future, but in most of Afghanistan the phrase “girls and school” is a joke treated with contempt.

More than sixty percent of our population lives in villages. For decades and decades the people have been involved with agriculture and the livestock business. For most of these villages education is a culture that includes boys, not girls.

The thirty years of war made it more difficult for families to adapt to the idea that education is also good for females. In the last ten years since the withdrawal of Taliban new hopes were raised for the people. Many schools were built in different regions and millions of children have enrolled in school. Despite the cultural barrier and the security issue, many families have become more optimistic about the future for their children if they get educated.

At the same time, other people began to see that if the trend continues this way for many years, then eventually all the girls will get educated and will be aware of their own rights, their demands will get bigger and bigger, and the imbalance of power—now completely in the hands of men—will be lost.

So these people are starting again to burn our schools and poison the air or water in the schools so that the families will withdraw their girls from school out of fear. This happened in September in many districts in Herat, Takhar, Kunduz and elsewhere. And the trick works. Families stop their girls from going to school.

Our security is getting worse each day in many provinces. The people themselves cannot ensure their own safety for their families, so the only thing they can do is keep their kids safe at home. As a result, we return to the days when girls can only dream their big dreams.

By Fahima

Photo: Eric Kanalstein / UNAMA