Just weeks after Malala was shot, a teenage girl in Afghanistan was reportedly beheaded for refusing to wed. The girl, named Gastina, had a supporter in
her father as well. He felt his daughter was too young, at 14, to wed; he refused to approve a marriage to a relative who demanded her hand. The rejected
suitor and his brother retaliated, slashing the girl's throat with a knife.
"It is not rare for fathers to support their daughters," says Noorjahan Akbar, an Afghan-born student at Dickinson College in Pennsylvania. "My sister and
I have always had the support of both of our parents in our education and in our activism," says Akbar, who helped launch an all-female Internet cafe in
The stories can be heart-wrenching. Pakistani anthropologist and filmmaker Samar Minallah Khan says that in northern Pakistan a few years ago, she met a
father who had been ordered by a local tribal council to give away his eight-year-old daughter as compensation for a crime committed by a relative. "He
wanted to give his land, his home, but not his daughter," Khan says. Khan says she lobbied local leaders, and the girl was ultimately spared and today is
Heather Barr, an Afghan-based researcher with the nonprofit Human Rights Watch, says many families in Afghanistan "are supportive of their daughters going
to school" but that things often change at puberty. "Unfortunately there is a huge drop in school attendance by girls after primary school, which is
probably related to many factors, including availability of schools, but also family pressures and early marriage," she says. She recalls meeting a woman
whose brother had been killed by the Taliban because he shielded a younger sister from a forced marriage.
There are some efforts in the region to train tribal leaders and families in the value of education for girls. In Afghanistan, poverty, illiteracy and
traditional social expectations "have been as big of enemies of education as the Taliban," says Jean Kissell, executive director of the nonprofit Welfare
Association for the Development of Afghanistan. Many children don't go to school, she says, because they are needed to work, "earning bread for their
families." This is "not tribal tradition, nor is it the Taliban," she says. "This is poverty, lack of good governance, the absence of human rights and the
lack of law and order."
Her group spent seven years training some 30,000 local leaders on various topics, including the importance of education for girls, explaining the ways in
which educated girls can benefit family and society. The payoff, though, "takes years."
An Afghan father of two young daughters, Saidal Pazhwak, works with Kissell's group in Kabul. "I believe that education is a girl's right," he says, adding
that many parents want to educate their daughters but lack either a safe environment or nearby schools to do so.