Last week we ran a series of posts on Women by women. They attracted a lot of attention – and local Labour members wrote in with posts, more than we could accommodate before 8 March. Below we publish one of these – on Women’s education.Maureen B

I doubt there are many reading this who have never heard of Malala Yousafzai, the teenager, born in Mingora, who almost literally gave her life to demand education for girls. She was brought to the UK for life saving treatment following a vicious shooting attack, on October 9th 2012, by members of the Taliban, who had infitrated Pakistan: two other girls were also injured. On her recovery Malala immediately began school (March, 2013) and made a memorable speech at the United Nations on her 16th birthday in 2013, as reported on television news worldwide.

Manhiza Naderi, born in Kabul, had to flee with her family, as her father was targeted for his opposition to the Russian regime. They went first to Pakistan where at least she was able to go to school. They then ended up in New York where she became involved with a group WAW – Women for Afghan Women, in 2002. Returned to Afghanistan, in 2003 she visited a prison, where women who had escaped tyrannical marriages/families were incarcerated. She and other WAW members eventually educated men to understand the horror endured by girls of about 12 yrs old married to a 60yr old man and convinced them that God did not expect them to beat their wives.

International Women’s Day is a good time to re-assess the progress of education of women, such as Manhiza, who now teaches women to read and understand their rights as written in the Koran. (Amnesty Magazine, Spring 2014, pp21-22.)

The story of my own family tells something of that progress – but also how slow and halting it has been, even here in the UK.

I was fortunate to get to the local state Grammar School in Middlesbrough having “passed the Scholarship”. I enrolled at Leeds University to read Modern Languages and subsequently became a teacher.

My very intelligent mother, the eldest GIRL of six surviving siblings, had to stay at home on the day of the scholarship, as her mother was unwell and so had to attend a secondary modern school. At 14 yrs old, – the school leaving age in the 1930’s – she was sent down to London to work “in service” starting as scullery maid.

I remember that in the mid 1960’s my (late) younger sister, the only female in an architect’s office, felt she had to give up her ambition to be an architect because of the sexist attitude of her colleagues. She did, however, then go on to train as a nurse.

British women generally are now doing well and learning to “aim high”, attending colleges and universities. Yet while 60% of graduates are women only 17% of computer graduates are female, and out of those just 13% work in the tech industry.
The glass ceiling still exists. This is not simply because women have children, though that is still a significant source of gender inequalities. My sister’s experience is, unfortunately, still common in many fields. As Zoe Williams writes in the Guardian (08.03.14) the most cutting edge fields are also the most regressively sexist. Anne-Marie Imafidon, an exceptional tech genius, who has founded Stemettes, a charity to encourage women into science,technology,engineering and maths. As she states “the [cutting edge] fields ….were replicating working conditions so sexist they make Mad Men look like Spare Rib”.

So, in spite of obvious advances in women’s education, there is still a lot to improve on today, even here in Britain. International Women’s Day is a time to reflect on that.

Maureen Berlin

Maureen Berlin is a member of Weetwood Branch.

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