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Shugufa: Struggle to Study (2:53) Excerpt from film "Back to School", September 2006
The clip shows the home life of Shugufa and her family. In Afghanistan, women often confront conflicts between tradition and modernization.

Country: Afghanistan

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Guiding Questions
  1. Describe the family life you observe in Shugufa's home.

  2. What conflicts do you see between the traditional and modern roles of women in Afghanistan?

  3. 3. How could government and society further support education for women in this society?
Background Essay
Shugufa, in Afghanistan, finally started school after spending five years in a Pakistani refugee camp while Afghanistan was battered by invasion and Taliban rule. Her father is an assistant doctor who supports education; her mother is an uneducated, illiterate housewife; and Shugufa is caught between the traditional and modern worlds. She says, "You must work until the day you die." When Wide Angle filmed her in 2006 we watch her doing the household chores for her family of 13 as a few signs of modernization appear.

Many Americans assume that free public education is a fact of life, but that is not true for over 100 million children around the world. The 20th Century saw a growing divide as more and more industrialized countries embraced state-supported education, and non-industrialized countries did not. In the non-industrialized countries, education remained bound by traditional practices or was available only to the wealthy.

To address this problem 1,100 participants from 164 countries met in Senegal in April of 2000 to adopt the Dakar Framework for Action, a re-affirmation of the 1990 World Declaration on Education for All. One of the commitments made in the Dakar Framework was to ensure that "by 2015 all children, particularly girls, children in difficult circumstances and those belonging to ethnic minorities, have access to and complete free and compulsory primary education of good quality."

While the Dakar Framework states that education is a human right, the reality for children around the world is very different. Education is often restricted by gender and/or income. In some places there is a shortage of qualified teachers. Some children around the world must cope with diseases like HIV/AIDS within their families, schools, and communities. Lastly, there can be a conflict between traditional values and the push toward education.

Securing government and community support for education has not been simple. Looked at historically, education has been a challenge that spans ages. Confined to the secular or religious elite for millennia, it was only at the beginning of the 19th Century that Napoleon introduced the concept of free public education, to foster loyalty to the central government. Enlightenment thinkers and their heirs stressed the importance of education as a foundation for representative government. Later, industrialization created the need for basic literacy for factory workers. At the dawning of the 21st century, quality free public education has now been achieved for the industrialized world. The challenge remains to bring it equally to all the world's children.

To put a human face to the global crisis in access to education, WIDE ANGLE filmed seven children around the world as they began school in 2003. This effort resulted in the documentary TIME FOR SCHOOL. The film crew returned to visit them again in 2006, making a second documentary, BACK TO SCHOOL.

We've returned in 2006, and Shugufa is 13. She attends school in the afternoon — but is up at dawn for morning chores. The oldest girl still living at home, she's become her mother's right hand.

I like all work in the house and my favorite is cleaning the vegetables. I'm washing the vegetables with salt. They have to be washed this way. I'm doing this because it kills the bacteria and everybody should wash vegetables like this.

While Shugufa's parents support her education, in a 13-person family housework tends to take center stage.

My problem is that I don't have enough time to study. Because in our life when we finish one job, there's something else to be done. And there's a proverb, "You work until the day you die!"

Shugufa's older sister, Freshta, is now in university studying to be a midwife.

I want to help women who have problems before, during, and after delivery. As you know, in Afghanistan a lot of women die in childbirth and we want to control this.

Shugufa too hopes to go to university one day and have a career — a possibility that was unthinkable for traditional women in their mother's generation — and still is.

I can go out for weddings, or a special family event. All the rest of the time, I stay in the house because we're housewives. I can't go to the bazaar or walk in the streets freely.

Related Links
Back to School on PBS.org

OneWorld PERSPECTIVES Magazine: Learning the Future

United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO)

Global Campaign for Education

CIA World Factbook: Afghanistan

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