What is courage?
Even when the Taliban was driven out of Afghanistan, young girls still weren’t guaranteed an education and those from strict families past the age of thirteen were generally not allowed to leave their homes. The reason: a patriarchal sense of “honor.” Parents can’t risk their daughters being kidnapped on their way to school because of how such an act would ruin their reputation. While sons are at university, someone has to earn a living to keep food on the table. Just because the Taliban wasn’t enforcing a burqa law and punishing innocent people for petty transgressions doesn’t mean women stopped being second-class citizens born and bred to be wives and mothers. Thankfully there are some willing to fight that stereotype and help young girls choose their own futures.
While Carol Dysinger‘s documentary Learning to Skateboard in a Warzone (If You’re a Girl) focuses upon the educational institution known as Skateistan and its fearless teachers doing everything they can to empower the next generation of women to fight for their rights, I found myself enamored by a couple of the students’ mothers and the strength they show to not force their daughters onto the same path their families forced them. These women know how lucky they are that something like this school exists because it provides them a way out. After all, female illiteracy isn’t an unfortunate byproduct of a cultural divide. It’s the intentional effect of a system built to keep women subservient to the men in charge. Literacy therefore proves a potent weapon of defiance.
The teachers are arming these kids with the tools to survive and hopefully instill change themselves. That’s where skateboarding enters the equation. Just as important as reading, writing, and arithmetic, this sport becomes a way to conquer fears and imbue courage in ways these children can better comprehend in the moment. It’s about getting on that board and not falling off in front of your peers. It’s about excelling at something only boys are allowed to do (at least outdoors) in order to break down the psychological barrier they’re each born with that says they can never be as important as a man. That this bravery also assists in combatting the horrors of enduring the tragedy of suicide bombings every week in Kabul is frankly an added bonus.
Dysinger captures the mental fortitude that results from adults (the student support officer talks about the time she smacked a member of the Taliban in the face after he hit her) and kids alike. The latter is portrayed via multiple ages too as two graduates of the program who now teach skateboarding share their success stories and aspirations while numerous current students are shown laughing, learning, and preparing for whatever might come their way. It’s inspiring to watch because we can understand the difficulties that go into a program that purposefully challenges the status quo. That a little thing like a dedicated school bus to alleviate parents’ worries for kidnapping can get them on-board proves how people will support change if trust is instilled. Things can get better.