At the end of last year, Afghanistan’s Taliban-run higher education ministry said that female students would not be allowed access to the country’s universities until further notice. In light of this decision, we invited Anushka and Tasha Agarwal to share excerpts from their research on experiences of accessing education for Afghan refugee women who resettled in India.
by Anushka & Tasha Agarwal
Featured image: Manchester University, https://www.manchester.ac.uk/discover/news/university-provides-free-ma-places-for-refugee-women-from-afghanistan/
More than a year after the Taliban’s coup d’état, the days are still dark, but there is still hope for a better future for Afghan refugees. The chairman of the Afghan asylum-seeker group, Ahmad Zhia Ghani, estimates that there are currently 21,000 Afghans living in India[i]. The Afghan women who have endured the burden of separation, fear, security, and lack of uniqueness may find hope and a prelude to a new life in India.
When I was asked to wear a chadri with only two holes on the face cover because I was engaged, I was unable to see anything. The worst part was I did not want to give up on my dream of becoming an engineer. The bright side of the gloomy sky is that I am now a refugee, and the sky is the limit.
The idea of equality is undermined by the fact that the fundamental rights to education offered by numerous organizations or nations may or may not be legally enforceable. As a result, ensuring access to education takes a back seat too, especially for the women who form the majority of the disadvantaged groups. Research says that only 3% of the refugee population has access to higher education and the proportion of women are less than that of men[ii]. It has been proven time and again that women’s education plays a significant role in enabling their reproductive labour in child rearing, generates ideas of self and empowerment and helps in getting out of the poverty cycle.
India is considered a safe haven for most of the Afghan refugees who were leaving their homes due to the continued security threats in their country. Certainly, the Taliban takeover in 2021 increased the number of Afghan refugees in India. Therefore, after relocating to a safe area and close to UNHCR, higher education becomes the next issue to be resolved for young Afghan refugees. Pursuing higher education in Delhi—India’s capital and home to many of the country’s best colleges and universities—is a complicated venture for many Afghan refugees. Additionally, women’s participation in higher education either becomes a low priority or is just addressed as a refugee’s education issue but is not understood through a gendered lens. A gendered lens to refugee women’s access to education would foreground equitable access to education.
We decided to move to India on Indian Visa but were reluctant due to prior news and information they had on less security available for women but moved anyway after worsening of the situation and considering India being cheap. Now we are under the protection of UNHCR but the security threat still persists.
Many people’s aspirations and desires have been affected by their financial limitations as a result of their exile, and often when extended assistance has been requested, it has not been generous enough. In order to assist Afghan refugees in their higher education, the UNHCR has made available the Albert Einstein German Academic Refugee Initiative (DAFI) scholarship. However, there was a gender imbalance in accessing the DAFI scholarship. Along with this, the scholarship amount was also of not enough help as the amount granted by DAFI scholarship was not sufficient to pay for their fees.
Comparatively speaking, my university’s tuition is extremely high. The DAFI scholarship could only help in part, and my family bore the burden of the very high tuition costs. In addition, I have two siblings who need my parents’ constant care and support too.
The stress does not end here for women enrolled in higher education; it gets amplified for assimilation in a new education pattern that requires learning two languages – Hindi and English. But many of their problems are due to lack of information, household management taking up too much of their time, personal and administrative barriers related to migration, pressure to get married and a general lack of information preventing them from accessing extra classes.
I had to take other classes along with my studies. My parents says that I should be good with stitching and tailoring for marriage. They don’t want to send me to my science extra class. Even I don’t have any time to manage so many classes.
Gender dynamics shape the experiences of migration and the process of resettlement after migrating into a new society. Many young female refugees had aspirations and visions which motivated them to complete their education. The narratives of these young aspirational women showcase how education is a potent tool for their newfound freedom and welfare. Their understanding of Indian women, viz-a-viz Afghan women, also gave them hope that formal education would enable financial independence. These young Afghan women are passionate and focused not just towards their own betterment but, coming from a war-torn region, they also took it as their responsibility to propagate love and peace within their community. Despite several constraints from the family, society, geographical boundaries and diplomacy, these young women in exile engage in exploring multiple options for their relative betterment and aim to rewrite the stories of contemporary Afghan women.
[i] Roshni Majumdar. (2021, July 9). Why Afghan asylum-seekers are protesting in India. https://www.dw.com/en/why-afghan-asylum-seekers-are-protesting-in-india/a-59108980
[ii] Andee Brown Gershenberg. (2020). Difficulties for refugee women in accessing higher education | Routed Magazine. https://www.routedmagazine.com/omc2020-4-ref-women-higher-ed
Anushka is a PhD candidate in the Department of Higher and Professional Education at National Institute of Educational Planning and Administration. Her areas of research interest lie in the study of global migration, refugee studies and education. Contact her at email@example.com.
Tasha Agarwal has completed her PhD from the School of Development Studies, Ambedkar University, Delhi and has an M.Phil. degree in Educational Planning and Policy from NIEPA. Her research interests lie in the field of international migration and gender, refugee and education. She has been associated with several national as well as international projects by Stanford University, SAAPE and NCERT. She has also worked with national-level education bodies to develop innovative learning tools such as audio-visual content, comic books etc. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.