In her words: a teacher's story

by Jess McCabe // 12 December 2013, 20:00

Tags: Afghanistan, violence against women

Parween is a headteacher in Afghanistan. She teaches girls. When you hear her story - what has happened to her as a result of this job - you will likely ask yourself: in her place, could I carry on teaching? Would I be strong enough?


(See bottom of post for transcript, supplied by Amnesty International)

The woman you see reading Parween's story isn't Parween. It is Jo Dibb, head teacher of Elizabeth Garrett Anderson school in Islington. She has read the story as part of a campaign by Amnesty International to highlight the experiences of professional women in Afghanistan, and the risks they take just going to work everyday. Risks not just to themselves, but their loved ones.

Jo Dibbs, reflecting on this experience, explains:

The thought that our pupils could be poisoned, or gassed, or our teachers attacked, just because our aim is to empower young women, is unfathomable to me. And yet these are the very real dangers faced by my professional colleagues in Afghanistan.

When I read Parween's story, I was moved to do something to support Amnesty's campaign. I can't imagine receiving death threats, or my family being threatened, because of my job? If I was Parween, would I have the strength and courage to continue?

I can't answer that question, but I know that Parween's strength and dedication to the cause of girls' education left me in awe. If she is willing to continue fighting for girls' empowerment in the face of such danger, shouldn't we, wherever we are in the world, support her?

For more information on this campaign, see the second, equally must-watch, video in the series, A doctor's story.

Amnesty wants to raise awareness about this issue - and encourages you to write to your MP. The organisation argues the UK should be doing more to protect women who are human rights defenders in Afghanistan.

Video transcript

LOCATION: IN PLACE OF WORK OR AT HOME.

THE TEACHER DELIVERS THE LINES SPEAKING DIRECTLY TO CAMERA,

OCCASIONALLY GLANCING DOWN. WE CUT BETWEEN FRONT-ON AND

PROFILE SHOTS.

HEAD TEACHER: "We couldn't sleep the whole night. We were crying. We called

the police and hospital emergency rooms. But there was no news. It was the

longest night of my life.

The next day the phone rang. We put it on loud-speaker. A voice said "we want

$300,000 to release your son."

"Where am I supposed to find that kind of money?" said my husband. The caller

said "If your wife can run a girl's school, if she can afford to teach girls then why

can't you to afford to pay us the money?"

They handed the phone to my son. He asked me to come and get him and bring

him back home. That was the last time I heard his voice.

A year and two months after my son disappeared we had a call from the police.

My son's body had been washed down a hillside by a flood. He had bullets in his

chest and stomach.

We received other calls from the kidnappers who said that if you don't stop

working we'll kill your other children. They're scared of women's empowerment.

But I won't give up on girls' education.

WE CUT TO A WIDE SHOT REVEALING LIGHTS AND A BOOM. THE HEAD

TEACHER IS HOLDING A PIECE OF PAPER WITH THE SCRIPT ON IT.

HEAD TEACHER: These aren't my words. But this story is true.

END TITLE: To find out whose story this is CLICK HERE.

Comments From You

Jolene Tan // Posted 16 December 2013 at 05:13

This is a really powerful story and I would have loved to share it if the video had been made differently - but why oh why have they chosen this format involving a white English woman? Does the story not stand up perfectly well on its own with an Afghan woman telling her own story? If Parween can't speak English or didn't want to be filmed, couldn't there have been subtitles, a translation, another Afghan woman, anything?

Laura // Posted 16 December 2013 at 11:07

I wondered the same thing, Jolene! It's as though the presumed viewer can only relate to the story if it's told by a white woman, which is a pretty atrocious attitude. Like we'd write it off if it was an Afghan woman, but if we imagine the experiences happening to a white woman and British children it suddenly becomes terrible.

Jolene Tan // Posted 16 December 2013 at 13:38

Wow, do you really think that's the actual conscious intent behind the video, Laura? Because I wondered out loud to some other non-white friends if that was the case, and we all thought "SURELY NOT", surely it just didn't occur to them; but if they were consciously thinking it, I mean, how could racism alarm bells not go off? How? I am struggling with the level of doublethink required here.

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