Boosting Economic Growth Through Education

Mahboba Saeidi, now a mother of four children, shares her experience when they immigrated to Iran in 1999. Her oldest daughter was denied an education. Like them, many more immigrants were forced to flee their country because of the war and denied education in Iran.

In the early 2000s, she realized that in Eslamshar, Tehran, Iran, she and her husband are the only college-educated Afghans in their community. The majority of her Afghan neighbors were illiterate, regardless of the Taliban regime. They considered themselves conservative and religious. They thought that their daughters, wives, and sisters should stay home and avoid men and going out. However, very few of them were open to letting their daughters get educated.

“I would talk to the girls’ moms, hoping that they will be able to convince their husbands to let their daughter and sons come to me so that I can teach them. I would also tell my husband to encourage his Afghan co-workers to let their daughters be educated.” Mahboba said.

She was convinced that she could bring a change and asked her husband to persuade their husbands and brothers to let their daughters and wives learn to read and write. It did not take them that long to convince them.

“In the beginning, I had about 15 students, and then the number started growing. In less than a year, I had to rent a bigger basement to have enough space for about 100 students,” she included.

In 1995 the Taliban had entirely taken over Afghanistan; a lot of families ran away for their safety to their neighboring counties, mainly Pakistan, Iran, and other countries. Nearly all Afghans faced a lot of racial and ethnic discrimination in their neighboring states. The majority did not even have a place to stay; they were denied jobs, and much more.

“Under the Taliban, women taught girls in their homes… As in the Taliban period, in the majority of cases, women have no choice but to teach their children, especially girls, at home (Poya & Rostami-Povey, 2007).”

Two UN Security Council resolutions passed in 1998 urged the Taliban to end its abusive treatment of women (Lindsay & Zachary, 2020). These are the days and years when girls would dress as boys to be able to go outside. Women were oppressed, schools and colleges were shut.

Women could not leave their homes without a male escort. They were forced to wear Chadari (head to toe cover, which covers face too). Women will get beaten up if their face or hands show. “One time, I was going to visit my parents… I got on the bus, felt like my Chadari was going to fall off my head. I tried fixing it when out of nowhere, two men started screaming, shouting, and running toward me. When they got on the bus, they started flogging me for showing my hands,” Mahboba said.

This is one of the terrors many Afghans had to go through during this time. They were cruel and holding back fundamental human rights from people, especially women.

Mahboba is not the only Afghan that has encountered this issue. Like her, there were hundreds and thousands of Afghans displaced from their home country. They all have different stories, but they share a commonality. She is one of the heroic women that were committed to bringing change, equality between gender, races, and ethnicities within her Afghan community wherever she lived.

According to the United Nations refugee agency, there are about 2 million undocumented Afghan in Iran. They have different rules everywhere in Iran; some places require residency documents or pay for school. Other sites like Eslamshar, Tehran, where Mahboba and her family lived, needed all migrants to have lived there in the past 30 years to be able to enroll their children at school.

“We had legal documents, but my daughter still wasn’t allowed to go to school because she was Afghan, and the school principal rejected our request so many times. Saying “No, you can’t because you are not Iranian, it doesn’t matter if you have come here legally or not; we don’t let immigrant children go to school with Iranian children.” She added.

More heroic women are out there that still need to be recognized for their courageous acts in a male-dominated country like Afghanistan. Iran, on the other hand, a country where everyone thinks that all have equal rights to work and education, but that is far from the truth.

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