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Phoenix Forward magazine

Alumna went to war zone for doctoral research

Khalida Mashriqi

Having a college education can give women in Afghanistan the opportunity to help rebuild their war-torn country, according to research by University of Phoenix alumna Khalida Mashriqi. But first, they must be able to get to school safely. In some Afghan communities, she points out, just talking about educating women is forbidden.

Mashriqi explored these issues for her doctoral dissertation, “Women’s Access to Higher Education in Afghanistan: A Qualitative Phenomenological Study,” and was awarded her doctorate in educational leadership in June 2013.

She knew some research just couldn’t be done from the comforts of a desk and computer; she needed to see things for herself.

“In research, the goal is to fill in the gaps,” she explains. “There are very few studies about the condition of women’s education in Afghanistan.” So the K–8 library media specialist, wife and mother from Flushing, New York, traveled to Afghanistan to interview female college students for her dissertation.

It was a homecoming of sorts — but a risky one.

There are very few studies about the condition of women’s education in Afghanistan.

Mashriqi was just 2 in 1985 when her family fled Afghanistan and relocated to New York. She’s grown up enjoying U.S. democracy, access to education and the modern conveniences of a Western lifestyle. And even though 300 family members live nearby, most of what she knows about her homeland has come from TV and newspapers.

As she planned her trip to Kabul in the summer of 2012, Mashriqi admits, “My family and I were very scared. I’m almost too Western, so I was afraid I wouldn’t blend in, and that could be really dangerous.”

An Afghan exchange student she met through Women for Afghan Women volunteered to help Mashriqi in her research and connected her with 12 students in Kabul who were willing to be interviewed. For everyone’s safety, the interviews were conducted individually at the exchange student’s family home. And while Mashriqi’s job was to be unbiased, she said many of the stories she heard were heartbreaking.

Bribery is rampant — almost expected — when women seek admission to college, the interviewees concurred. Tribal favoritism, sexism and harassment are everyday occurrences, too.

But the greatest barrier for women in higher education, the students told Mashriqi, is religious zeal. Whenever they’re out in public, the women said, they’re always mindful of the possibility of Taliban suicide attacks and stories of acid being thrown in women’s faces.

Since the 7th century, Islam has been the prevailing religion among the country’s tribes. Educated Islamic leaders support education for both men and women, Mashriqi found. But “those fundamentalists who are untrained in the true principles of Islam don’t approve; they consider men superior to women. Those leaders wield great influence over their followers.”

Afghan culture also expects that a woman will marry into another family and is therefore not her own family’s concern when it comes to paying for, or supporting, her educational pursuits. Among some families, Mashriqi learned, it’s a question of who they should invest in — and the answer is always the son.

Despite these barriers, the students expressed hope about their educations and their futures. All 12 concluded that women and men must be educated to contribute to society and help Afghanistan advance, Mashriqi says.

As one woman told her, “Highly educated women not only present educated and well-mannered children to society, but also play [a] significant role in a country’s economic development.”

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