Recently a photo of a 25 year old Afghan girl Jahan Taab from a remote poor village Oshto in Daikundi, went viral when she was taking the college entrance exam called Kankor Exam while breast feeding her child. Later it was confirmed that she has passed the exams and wants to go to college to study Sociology. Photo credits are given to an invigilating lecturer Yahya Erfan. He was so moved by her determination that he posted the pictures on his facebook. Link here
“She got up from her desk when her baby started to get fussy. She sat down on the floor, breastfeeding the infant, and kept filling out the answers to the test.” (Buzzfeed).
She reportedly told the lecturer Mr. Erfan that she is worried about the cost of education and that the University is 8 hours from her residence. It is the power of social media that a Go-Fund was created to support the cost of here higher education.
Needless to say, girls’ determination to study is never an issue. The key barrier is the systemic patriarchy in the garb of cultural mores or religious edicts.
Patriarchy is such an omnipresent barrier that hinders women in all communities and all economic strata one way or the other. And here is where the role of men becomes extremely important in bringing about women empowerment by dismantling the walls of patriarchy.
Here I must share my own story too.
(Bear in mind I am an urban educated woman with a strong will power. But even then, had it also not been the supportive men in my life, I may not have sailed through various systemic hurdles that patriarchal infrastructures create at every nook and corner of a woman’s life).
In the early 1990s, as an Indian medical graduate I had to go through a written and a clinical exam by Pakistan Medical and Dental Council to be certified to practice in Pakistan. I opted Karachi centre. When I received notification for the exam it said the exam will not be held in Karachi as there are no other candidates. The exam will be in Peshawer.
Since I lived in the Middle East, I was supposed to travel with my kids to Karachi where my in laws lived. But before I could even know and panic about how I will travel with kids to Peshawer, my husband first took an emergency leave from his hospital, and then informed me that we are all travelling to Peshawer.
My husband Fasih and I, with our two kids- a toddler and a 6 month old breast feeding infant landed in Peshawar. It was a 3 day long exam- with a written paper and clinical exam. From day 1, my husband sat in the lawn of the examination centre, with two babies, as he dropped me for the exam. I would come out to feed the baby every few hours in the breaks.
Funniest incident in the whole saga was when my daughter cried, “Papa potty.”
He ran with the baby in one hand and the toddler in another to the washroom.
As he entered the male washroom the guard said, “Take the girl to female washroom with her mother.”
“BUT mother is busy in exam.”
“But this baby cannot wait. She has to go urgently.”
So the guard let him take her to the washroom. And while holding the infant in arms he helped the toddler finish the job and clean her.
Finally they came back to play and sit in the lawn again.
And then he smelt the baby has soiled his diaper. He ran again to the same wash room.
The chowkidar got annoyed, “Ap pher se as gaye?” (You have come again?).
Fasih: “Smell this diaper.”
The guard laughed and commented, “Aur parhao biwi ko.”(Let your wife study more).
After day1 the entire examination team knew about my family and when I went from each viva and clinical exam, from Internal Medicine to General Surgery to ENT to ObGyn to Ophthalmology, first thing the professors asked was how are the husband and babies doing?
Second question they asked was, “Where have you graduated from?”.
On reply “Lady Hardinge Medical College in New Delhi” every single one of them began the viva with the comment, “So do we really need to test your knowledge?”
No bragging but I passed with the top position.
The head examiner was Prof Zakaullah Beg who was my husband’s professor in his postgraduate life. He himself called Fasih on phone 2 weeks later in Karachi to break the news.
Moral of the story: Empower a woman and she will make her husband, family and entire community proud.