On the morning of March 23rd, six weeks ago, I sat at home feeling completely broken. Devastated. Furious. That morning, I scrolled through hundreds of pictures of Afghanistan and saw distraught adolescent girls in their brand-new uniforms standing outside the gates of their schools.
The Taliban abandoned their international promise to allow girls in Afghanistan to continue their education past sixth grade six weeks ago. Millions of Afghan girls were told on that day what I and other girls like me had been told nearly 25 years prior: you don’t matter. Concerning the fate of your country, you do not exist. Also, the Taliban are still talking down to their audience, just like they did when they first came to power 25 years ago.
These days, I spend my time teaching Afghan females. My job, and my calling in life, is to create a space where girls feel comfortable learning and growing into the kind of independent thinkers and leaders who will use their voices to shape the future of their country.
This takes place at SOLA (the School of Leadership, Afghanistan), which I helped found. Girls at SOLA’s Kabul campus learned they mattered in a society where only 5% of women were accessing tertiary education compared to 14% of men and where 60% of out-of-school children were girls even before the return of the Taliban. They were significant as students, as young women, and as Afghans.
Recently, I attended the release party for the 2022 GEM Gender Report, which details the important role that non-governmental actors can play in advancing gender parity in the classroom. Non-governmental organisations (NGOs) like SOLA play a crucial role in promoting gender equality in and through education during times of conflict and crisis. SOLA has always been and will continue to be a group of Afghans fighting for their own country’s future. Our mission to give every girl the chance to live in and learn from a community as richly diverse as the world has become is more important than ever.
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Since the Taliban took over Kabul last summer, we have been running a school in Rwanda with the intention of enrolling a new class of students from the Afghan refugee diaspora this fall. These students will be young women who are currently dispersed across the globe in refugee camps and have little to no access to formal education.
As much as we’d like to, we simply need assistance in getting to them. The world’s attention must remain fixed on Afghanistan; otherwise, the country will take another step backwards in its pursuit of gender parity. We’ll get even further away from the point where we can celebrate advancement alongside the rest of the world. According to the GEM 2022 Gender Report, losing sight of Afghan girls now could set development back by two decades.
There is a pressing need for the international community to speak out against governments that deny the right to education to entire populations. The decision made by the Taliban six weeks ago today is an assault on the equality of women and girls. I refuse to watch this happen. I have no doubt that you won’t either.