Zulfacar discovers Life
By Maddy Ard | Contributing WriterBy Maddy Ard | 10/19/2014 10:46pm
Maliha Zulfacar was born in 1961 in Afghanistan and went on to become the first Afghan woman to seek a college education in the United States and the first female ambassador from Afghanistan. Photo Courtesy of the Bryant Conference Center
Zulfacar spoke at the Bryant Conference Center Thursday about her life. She spoke of her somewhat privileged childhood in urban Kabul, her venture to America at 17 years old and her return in 1973. Zulfacar fled Russian-occupied Afghanistan in 1979 for Germany, where she is currently Afghanistan’s ambassador.
She said she is not extraordinary by any means but merely a product of perfect circumstances.
“There’s nothing special about me,” Zulfacar said. “It was just that my family could afford to send me abroad to study.”
Education in Afghanistan was the main theme of Zulfacar’s lecture. She spoke little of her own life and used the majority of her time advocating for the people of Afghanistan who she said have been misrepresented in today’s media.
Zulfacar described Afghanistan as a “crossroad of different civilizations” with a history of constant political instability, where a new regime is established every few decades.
The educational system in Afghanistan is budding, she said, but 70 percent of the nation’s population remains illiterate, and only 5 percent of the small group of rural students are girls. Zulfacar described the schools as lacking windows, tables and chairs. She said the school systems were improving, but the road to improvement is long.
Zulfacar said 70 percent of Afghans live on less than two dollars a day, which contributes to issues with the health care system. Few hospitals are available, she said, and there is one bed for every 3,000 people.
She women’s issues are not considered when it comes to health care. There are no female physicians, and many Afghans refuse to allow women to seek a male doctor for concerns such as pregnancy.
On average, each Afghan woman births seven children, and half of those children usually die. Afghanistan has the second highest maternal mortality rate in the world. Zulfacar said a reason women choose to have so many children is because they are trying to ensure they have more sons than daughters.
Male domination is ingrained in Afghan culture, she said, and the wants and needs of women are not taken into account in many situations. Young girls are usually married off before the age of 15, some even before puberty, she said.
Zulfacar stressed that the physical burqa is not what people should focus on.
“The problem of Afghanistan is not the burqa,” she said. “If they took off the burqa, there is still a problem.”
Raegan Lemmond, a German instructor at the University, said she was amazed by the image of Afghanistan Zulfacar presented.
“Her lecture really changed my view of what life in Afghanistan looks like,” Lemmond said. “I walked in this room with a stereotype given to me by the media. Dr. Zulfacar has shown that that stereotype truly does not apply.”
Like Lemmond, many said they were stunned by the statistics given.
“I really hadn’t thought about it that much,” Chong Liu, a sophomore majoring in public relations, said. “I was completely unaware of the harsh conditions Afghans face on a daily basis. It’s far worse than I imagined.”