Why Girls’ Education in Central Asia is Like Star Wars

this post originally appeared on HER - Hope.Educate.Rise

Like the rest of the world, I was unbelievably excited to see the latest Star Wars movie, The Force Awakens. After the initial excitement of seeing all of our old favorites and meeting some new ones on screen, I thought about how the women in Star Wars have so much in common with the women and girls living in Central Asia. 
Here are just a few reasons how the strong women in Central Asia are like the strong, powerful female characters in Star Wars. (If you’re one of the few moviegoers who hasn’t seen it, there are some spoilers ahead.)

1.     Even when they are underestimated, these women are strong and powerful.  

Women are one of the driving forces of the Star Wars story. In each episode, they show their strength despite hitting obstacles (both from enemies and from colleagues who doubt them) along the way. 
For centuries, women throughout Central Asia have been been prohibited from attending school. Often, they are married at a young age, and once married, have an average of six children.
But they are determined. Women in Central Asia will walk for hours to get to schoolbecause they know that education is the surest path to secure a healthy and successful life for themselves and their families. They show how strong they can be while helping others along the way.  

2.     Women spread their knowledge to others

When women are educated, they share their knowledge with others.
Studies show that women and girls in Central Asia teach others with the knowledge they learn in school. Educating a woman causes a ripple effect, improving many lives beyond just that of the student in the classroom. 
In The Force Awakens, Maz Kanata is introduced as an ancient female character who shares her wisdom and awakens the force in Rey, a young woman. 

3.     Women are underestimated. 

In some old, unfair stereotypes, women are considered the ‘fairer,’ ‘weaker’ sex. But that stereotype is sharply contrasted by lived reality: women are strong, and those who underestimate them do so at their own peril.
Early on in The Force Awakens, other characters are constantly questioning Rey’s abilities. When given the opportunity to show her skills — like flying, negotiating, and fighting — she excels! 
Tradition in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Tajikistan dictates that women work only as homemakers — an assignment that all too often means that they will never have the ability to get an education. In contrast to their assigned roles, Central Asian women and girls go to extreme lengths to get to school, and when given the opportunity to excel, they are able to change lives. 

4.     Women are resourceful and widely proficient. 

Rey is the perfect example of how young women can use what’s around them to figure out how to best use it to their advantage. She salvages wrecked machines for food, is an amazing pilot, works to protect others, and is perfectly able to provide for herself.
Like Rey, women and girls in Central Asia must be proficient in many different tasks. Take for example, Shakeela, a young woman who received a Central Asia Institute scholarship to use for higher education; she now acts as midwife for 16 villages in the Thalley Valley northwest of Khapalu, Pakistan. Aside from delivering babies and reducing infant and maternal mortality rates, Shakeela provides other services, such as wound care and the diagnosis and treatment of high blood pressure and pneumonia.  

5.     They persevere

Throughout the Star Wars saga, the lives of major female characters like Leia, Rey, and Padma, face constant danger from the evil Dark Side. They are held captive, shot at, and attacked, but they still continue to fight for what they know what is right, despite the consequences. 
We don’t need to look to characters from a long time ago in a galaxy far away for inspiration. We have heroes on our own planet — women who live and breathe and refuse to give up. 
In Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Tajikistan, girls and women are willing to put their lives on the line so they can receive an education and improve their lives. Famously, Malala Yousafzai, a young woman from Pakistan, was shot in the head for attending school. It would be enough to stop most of us. But she kept going. She never gave up. Even now, years after she was attacked, she serves as a role model to millions of people throughout the world, continuing to focus not just on her own education, but on giving girls throughout the world access to the education they need. She is so dedicated to learning that when she received notice she had won the Nobel Peace Prize, she was in chemistry class at school, and waited for her class time to finish before she celebrated the incredible honor.

6.     Women are hungry for education and have to seek out on their own

When many women start to learn, it creates a thirst that they cannot quench, and the more they learn, the more they want to learn.
In the case of Rey, after learning about the Force from Maz Kanata, she continues to seek out educational opportunities by searching for and eventually finding Luke to presumably continue her education.
Women in Central Asia are also motivated to continue their education. Most girls face pressure to drop out of school, continue helping around the house or farm, and marry and have children early. Despite these hardships, some continue on to higher education, having to move away from their friends and family. 

7. Women’s education  has an uncertain, but hopeful future 

We don’t know how the Star Wars story will progress, or the way that the educational landscape will change in Central Asia. 
In Star Wars, one thing is certain though, with strong female characters like Rey, and the plot including her finding Luke Skywalker, we are in for more exciting installments of the franchise. In Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Tajikistan, women and girls’ education is constantly threatened by natural disasters, politics, family and societal pressures, and scarce resources. There is hope though, as people from around the world are focused on bringing education to Central Asia. Education is the surest path to peace, and we need your help to get there. If you would like to become part of the movement by ensuring education for the women and girls in this area of the world, consider hosting a fundraiser for HER. You can choose anything as a fundraiser, and who knows, we may be educating a future Leia, Padma, or Rey.
-Mara Sykes
HER, a program of the Central Asia Institute, builds an infrastructure of education in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Tajikistan, through its strong network of volunteers, donors and community partners. Visit now.



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