Girls over the age of 12 are currently banned from attending schools in Afghanistan under strict rules, but women across the country are secretly teaching lessons so children can continue their education.
Every day, up to 100 girls go to these women’s houses, where they learn mathematics, English and Dari (Afghanistan’s main language). At one school, pupils participate in art education.
“Here the trees of hope are being uprooted one by one, especially for women and girls. We have to fight for that and we have to get our rights,” says one teacher. The women The PIE spoke to are not named in this article for security reasons.
Another teacher explains that the girls at her school are divided into classes of 20 students and take shifts throughout the day. Still, she says it’s hard to teach so many students in her small house.
Less than two years ago, the lives of these women were immeasurably different. One was a customer service representative for a telephone company; another was a student at Kabul University. When the Taliban took power in August 2021, the freedom these women had known for most of 20 years disappeared.
They are now excluded from public life. They cannot work in most jobs outside the home (most recently women were banned from working in Afghanistan as aid workers). They should avoid leaving their homes and if they do, they must cover their faces and bodies. They cannot see male doctors. They cannot travel more than 45 miles without a male escort.
Despite being deprived of opportunities themselves, these women are determined to ensure that girls in their communities do not miss out.
“Afghan women and girls are human beings too,” says one teacher. “And we are Muslims. Our religion allows us to learn. So why do it [the Taliban] do they call themselves muslims? I want these words of mine to reach them.”
The Taliban is cracking down on dissidents. The women explain that officials go from home to home looking for secret schools like theirs. If caught, they will pretend to run Islamic courses teaching the Koran, which the girls can still attend. They paste Islamic symbols on the doors of their houses to support their stories. The women do not know if this will be enough to prevent them from being arrested or punished.
“Taliban is afraid of every woman in Afghanistan”
But they are not afraid. They have nothing left to lose, they say.
“I think the Taliban is afraid of every woman in Afghanistan,” says one of them. “They think women from Afghanistan. [are] strong and educated persons, may not know how to rule. They are afraid of women from Afghanistan.”
The teachers PIE spoke to are connected through Wave of Hope, an organization founded by Zekria Farzad, an Afghan and former refugee.
While in the Moria refugee camp in Greece in 2019, Farzad began teaching English to the children there. With the help of others in the camp, he set up makeshift schools. Farzad has now moved to Switzerland, but the schools continue in five refugee camps in Greece.
When the Taliban took control, Farzad began supporting women in his home country to run these clandestine schools, sending the money he earns from his job as a waiter to fund books and equipment.
“We want to find other strong women like them,” she says. “We are going to start more and more secret home schools for girls.”
In the future, they hope to allow girls to access online courses from abroad. “In many universities, in many educational institutions, there are many people who are ready to continue to support these girls,” says Farzad. The problem, he explains, is that most people in Afghanistan can’t afford fast enough internet to access these classes.
“Support us to free ourselves from their slavery,” says one teacher. “Please don’t leave us on this journey alone, we need someone. [help] us because it’s not safe for girls here.’
“I think they have a bright future,” another teacher says of her students. “We improve our lives.”
Learn more and donate to Wave of Hope