[2015] Nikki Lam: The Breadwinner

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[2015] Nikki Lam: The Breadwinner

The novel The Breadwinner, by Deborah Ellis, takes place in Kabul, Afghanistan in the 1990’s when the Taliban, a fundamentalist Islamic militia, took control of Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan, after twenty years of war against other groups of Taliban soldiers for leadership of the Islamic country. Parvana, the protagonist, is an eleven year old girl, who has to disguise herself as a boy, after her father is arrested, so her family can buy food, make money, and go outside without the problem of being a female. One day, Parvana goes out to buy food in the market, so her family can eat. While she is outside, she did not wear her burqa, which is against Taliban laws. Since she disobeyed the rules of Islamic Sharia Law, a Talib punished Parvana by hitting her with a stick against her shoulder. Situations just like Parvana’s are very similar and have happened to many other girls in Afghanistan. Other females have been beaten or punished for disobeying the Taliban rules, but most of their rules are unreasonable. Women’s lives were changed dramatically because Taliban’s extreme religious beliefs. Taliban laws negatively affected women and girl’s rights and independence in Afghanistan.

The Breadwinner By Deborah Ellis


Being a girl for Parvana changed and limited most of her rights and freedom in Afghanistan before she disguised herself as a boy. Women and girl’s lives were negatively affected when the Taliban laws took away their rights and independence. Many females today in Afghanistan remain illiterate with little or no education at all because the Taliban banned all girls to go to school. Women were also fired from their jobs, which leaves them with no money for food. Fathers and husbands controlled their wives or daughters decisions, which led to forced marriages. Taliban rules, which stated that girls had to wear burqas, stay inside their home, and have a male escort, restricted women and girls freedoms and independence. Research about the way women were treated in Afghanistan teaches students that many females are still trying to gain control of their independence, and girls have faced tough situations just like marriage. Jobs and education were taken away from girls and women by men who think females are unintelligent and a waste of time and money. Information that described how women are rarely free to do most things such as working, walking alone, or going outdoors helped people, who read the The Breadwinner, understand why Parvana had to disguise herself as a boy for her family. Now, the readers know that girls are not suppose to work or go outside without a male escort. Also, research about the Taliban’s extreme religious rules helped people understand that the Islam religion can either be taken very seriously by some citizens, but the Taliban rules made it impossible even for men to take their religion casually. Females were abused, forced to marriage, and stripped away from their freedom because of the laws made by the ruthless, cold-hearted, and cruel Taliban.


Females futures are controlled by the powerful males in their families, who sell their daughters to unmarried men for money and abuse their wives. More than half of the girls in Afghanistan are either married or engaged by the age of twelve or sixteen years old . “Eighty percent of marriages are either forced or arranged in rural areas.” Lots of fathers have their daughters married for many reasons such as to repay a debt, solve a dispute, avoid the cost of caring for their daughters, and being paid a large bride price for the girl. More than sixty percent of girls have had their freedoms taken away by becoming newlywed or sold to a rich payer, who has a high bride price. Some grooms and brides meet each other on the day of the wedding. When a girl is married in Afghanistan, their education is done, so more than 80% of women remain illiterate. Since girls are engaged or married at the age of twelve, their education may span from elementary school to seventh grade. This will limit girl’s options for freedom and getting jobs of their own, so they can escape this rough and cruel life. These girls can’t object to marriage because their father is the only one who gets to decide whether or not to give his own daughter to another man. Because males control the females decisions, a married girl will be under the control of their new husband. Afghan daughters and wives were often thought as property. Girls also had to ask permission to do most things from their fathers or husbands. Young wives with poor statuses in their families are usually abused by their husbands and inlaws. In Kabul, girls at the age of twelve and above are admitted to hospitals to treat these wounds shortly after being married, which is very common. Girls aren’t treated with respect by men, but they are only thought as a piece of land. When Taliban took control, the crime of beating up a female is simply ignored by soldiers. Since young wives that are being admitted into hospitals are common, Afghan citizens do not help to stop this abuse, but they only watch and let it happen. If no one plans to stop the abuse of women, females in hospitals will have to go back to their husbands or fathers that caused their harsh treatment and suffering. Girls can control their own life and decisions so that their fathers and husbands aren’t in command, but they do not know how to think for themselves or speak up, since they don’t have their own independence or freedom.

Taliban laws made women invisible to the society and also made it impossible for girls to become independent. Women were forced to wear burqas whenever they go outside since females were prohibited to show any skin in public. Burqas are long loose garments that cover the owner from head to toe. The area around the eyes is made of mesh fabric, which is very tough to see through, and girls were also not allowed to wear any makeup or even laugh out loud. This makes things impossible for girls to have fun. Females were prohibited from enjoying themselves with friends or other family members, and they were commanded to be silent and unnoticed. Burqas will hide their identities and restrict women or girls from wearing their own clothes. Since burqas are long pieces of fabric and tough to see through, it would take away girls freedom of movement. If a girl wants to run or do a cartwheel, she is not free to do these activities because the burqa takes away her ability to move around. Another rule demands citizens to paint their house windows black, so people from the street can’t see inside. Females are forced to stay in their homes, and they are imprisoned to house work. If they were found walking in the streets or outside of their house alone, they are faced with brutal punishments for being unescorted. Before girls leave their homes, they had to have a male chaperone or escort. Women are also forbidden to talk or communicate with any other male if they are not a member of the family. Numerous events and activities happen outside. Some events may be important or terrifying, but girls should be able to know what happens in public. Women do not have this freedom since the black painted windows prevent them to see outdoors. Girls also can’t become independent for the reason that they need to have a escort whenever they go out. If they try to go out and discover new things on their own, they are punished. They will never learn how to handle the outside world by themselves if someone is always there to watch. Allowing women to walk is all based on the males decision on whether or not they would stay inside or enjoy the sun. Females would not be capable to talk to close male friends because they’re not family members. Independence is taken away by their burqas that hide the faces of talented and strong females and the males that follow and walk them everywhere.


Afghan women and girl’s choices in life are very limited under the Taliban since their laws banned women and girls from going to work and school. In Afghanistan, the Taliban banned women from attending school and getting an education. Now 85% of girls are illiterate or have no former education. “Only 40% of Afghan girls attend elementary school, and only one in twenty girls attend schools beyond the sixth grade.” Girls were treated as a waste of learning, and men thought women are unintelligent peasants. Since girls are banned from going to school, many females are stuck in a male dominated society, so their life is devoted to obeying their father's or husband’s orders and rules. Women have a harder chance of getting away from their fathers or husbands because they do not have the knowledge to find a job or to take care of themselves. All they know is to keep quiet and listen to their male leaders. If girls had the right amount of education they need, then they could escape the Taliban and have the freedoms they deserve. Under Taliban rule, only a few female doctors and nurses in women only hospitals were able to keep their job, but those who didn’t work at a hospital had to quit their occupations. Even some females with high paying and educational jobs such as doctors and nurses were forced to become beggars and even prostitutes. The law that causes women to quit their jobs also has made many females poverty stricken and unable to care for themselves. If a woman is divorced or not married, it may be hard for them to take care of their children or their family without money to buy food or shelter. Without the help of a job or a education, female’s lives and futures or controlled by their fathers, husbands, brothers, and even grandfathers decisions.


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