Deborah Ellis’s The Breadwinner tells the heart-wrenching story of an 11-year-old Afghani girl, Parvana, who lives in a one-room apartment in a war-torn Taliban-era Afghanistan with her father, mother, two sisters, and baby brother. Ellis puts a twist on the typical “coming of age” novel and explores a different type of adolescence in Parvana’s story by examining the social pressures and political struggles Afghani women and girls face under the Taliban, including restrictions on attending schools or any education opportunity.
Because she cannot attend school, Parvana immerses herself in the chaotic work world of her father who makes a living by reading and writing letters in both Dari and Pashto for illiterate Afghani locals. The Taliban puts Parvana’s father in jail for receiving an education from England, leaving the family to fend for themselves. Circumstances force Parvana to strip herself of her feminine identity and enter the marketplace as a boy – the only way to make money and purchase food.
Parvana discovers she is not the only girl disguised as a boy in the marketplace and develops a friendship with an old classmate, Shauzia. Together, the two girls are exposed to the male-dominated Afghan economy and political system. Through their adventures, the girls meet abandoned women, converse with members of the Taliban, and witness extreme violence.
Readers are guided through Parvana’s eyes and her adolescent understanding of the world. It is both riveting and sorrowful, disheartening and inspiring. It leaves readers with a greater understanding of how the lack of educational opportunities for women and girls in Afghanistan affect their daily lives. Without education, women are excluded from important facets of society. With it, women gain confidence, which empowers them to actively participate in all facets of society including the economy, politics, and the workforce.
With a greater understanding, comes a sense of purpose. Readers can be expected to leave Parvana’s world with a yearning to improve the situation for Afghani girls and women. With the help of our donors and supporters, Barakat gives young girls in Afghanistan, like Parvana, the opportunity to receive an education through our two schools and literacy programs there. If you share Barakat’s vision, please donate today – your dollar goes a long way.