Cal Poly International Center hosted a virtual presentation about the exploitation and lack of education for women in Afghanistan. It was hosted by Cal Poly interdisciplinary studies professor Dawn Neill and featured guest speaker Maliha Zulfacar. 

Zulfacar is currently in collaboration with Cal Poly’s International Center to create an initiative for Afghan scholars. 

“As scholars at Cal Poly,” Zulfacar asks, “what can we do to help?” 

To support international scholars in need, Cal Poly has a Global Scholars Fund that gets distributed annually to accept donations from the public.

This presentation was co-sponsored by Cal Poly College of Liberal Arts, Cal Poly Interdisciplinary Studies, Cal Poly Social Sciences, Cal Poly Women’s Gender and Queer Studies and Cal Poly’s Men and Masculinities Program.

Zulfacar, originally from Afghanistan, left to attend the Western College for Women, the University of Cincinnati and Paderborn University in Germany and continues to educate and advocate women’s rights in Afghanistan. 

She taught ethnic studies in the past at Cal Poly but works with the International Center to help in need Afghan scholars at Cal Poly.

Zulfacar talked about the “Afghan Girl,” a portrait of her taken by a National Geographic photographer and how she became a symbol of displacement of Afghan citizens and refugees.

This image, originally taken in 1984, has recently come to light again after she resurfaced in Pakistan in 2014 as she is still an Afghan refugee. 

Zulfacar’s work focuses on how women in Afghanistan, like the “Afghan Girl,” lack representation in all aspects. In this virtual presentation she talks about women also fleeing because of the unequal chance for education. 

After leaving Afghanistan to continue a higher education, Zulfacar went back from 2000 to 2005. There she interviewed families who wanted a better future for their children. 

Zulfacar also worked on a documentary, “Kabul Transit,” which was released in 2006 and is available at the Cal Poly Kennedy Library.

Prior to her travels, she had heard rumors that boys in Afghanistan were preferred to go to school because girls were meant to become wives. 

What she found in her studies was that girls were not attending school because they were fearful for their safety. She said that young girls and women were commonly abducted and would have to walk miles to go to school. 

Despite the circumstances, Zulfacar said that all the parents she had talked to dreamt of their kids going to school, no matter their gender. From her observations, the access to education in Afghanistan is equal between boys and girls. This fear that young girls and women have is what’s really holding them back from equal education in Afghanistan. 

Outside resources for Afghan scholars include SLO4Home and The Institute of International Education.

SLO4Home is a local organization that aims to help Afghan and other refugees to establish a livelihood on the Central Coast. The Institute of International Education is a global charity that arranges and funds fellowships for threatened and displaced scholars in need.

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