Afghanistan’s only boarding school for girls has temporarily moved to Rwanda, according to its co-founder, a few days after a video was posted on social media that showed her burning class records to avoid retaliation from the Taliban.
Shabana Basij-Rasikh, who fled Kabul with 250 students and employees, called on the world to “not look away” from the millions of girls left behind.
“Look at those girls, and doing so will hold those in power accountable,” Basij-Rasikh said in a tweet, vowing to return to Afghanistan.
Another teacher, Pashtana Durrani, executive director of Learn Afghanistan, who is now in hiding, vowed to “raise an army, just like the Taliban did – but mine will be educated and determined Afghan women.”
The Taliban leadership has tried to present itself as somewhat more moderate than 20 years ago, when they imposed brutal control and prevented women from studying and working. They have insisted that women have the right to both. But the testimonies of women being sent home from their jobs and universities are exacerbating fears that the reality is very different.
Foreign aid as a lever
Humanitarian directors have called on the international community to use foreign aid as a lever to avoid losing two decades of hard-won gains in girls’ education.
“The challenge now is to defend what we have achieved,” says Kevin Watkins, visiting professor at the Firoz Lajli Institute for Africa and former director of Save the Children.
“The most pragmatic in the Taliban leadership will know that they desperately need international support to respond to a possible famine, to provide basic services and to create jobs. Those offering aid must now walk the fine line between demanding that the Taliban protect girls’ education and providing financial assistance to communities. ”
The last time the Taliban were in power, in 2001, only 12% of girls of primary school age received any kind of education, up from 50% in 2015. according to the analysis of the surveys of the research center Center for Global Development. In 2020, 39% (3.7 million) of the 9.5 million children who attended school they were girls.
Classes at home
Watkins said she visited villages where the Taliban had banned the establishment of a girls ‘school, but had “turned a blind eye” to classes taught in the teachers’ homes.
The extraordinary achievements in education were not “pushed forward by administrative decrees of an enlightened government in Kabul,” according to Watkins, but were “achieved and defended through the silent heroism of local communities, teachers, and NGO workers who have negotiated with the Taliban commanders, challenging them ”.
UNICEF reached an agreement with the Taliban in December to establish primary school classes for 140,000 pupils, including girls, in group-controlled areas.
Sarah Brown, director of the Thirdworld children’s charity, says that girls’ education has improved exponentially in Afghanistan.
“The other governments cannot step back and see how they take this away, but must use the weight of their commitment as donors in favor of girls’ education,” says Brown. “There is already a guide to start safe schools with everything you need.”
Last week, UNICEF’s head of field operations Mustapha Ben Messaoud told a UN briefing that he was optimistic about the possibility of working with Taliban representatives. Other international groups informed The Guardian who have had similar exchanges with the group.
But Ashley Jackson, coordinator of the Overseas Development Institute, says: “We don’t know what the Taliban’s rules are yet, because they haven’t announced them. But the only way to preserve educational achievements is to speak to the Taliban. UNICEF has said it is optimistic. They are optimistic because they have to be. If we don’t deal with them, there is literally no hope. ”
Heather Barr, associate director for women’s rights at Human Rights Watch, says: “The Afghans I speak to say over and over again that they [los talibanes] They try to give an image of legitimacy, but as soon as people stop paying attention, they will be the same as ever. We know what that meant in the 1990s. ”
Any influence the world can wield through the Taliban’s assistance and need for legitimacy could be a useful lever, according to Barr. “If organizations can make agreements with the Taliban for girls to attend primary schools, it will be positive and it will change their lives.” But he also says that they could be nothing more than wishful thinking.
Laurie Lee, executive director of Care International, which educates children in Afghanistan, says governments must “trust non-governmental organizations.”
“We have managed to run schools for many years all over Afghanistan, including places where there were no schools before,” says Lee. “We have been able to negotiate it with local leaders and we hope that continues.”
Susannah Hares, director of the Center for Global Development, predicts a huge drop in attendance, despite Taliban claims, in coeducational schools. Only the 16% of schools in Afghanistan are just for girls.
Translation by Ignacio Rial-Schies