The girls I taught in Kabul were Afghanistan’s future. The Taliban has taken that away

The Guardian
11 April 2022

The school I worked in has been forced to close. Our dreams are shattered and we urge you, people of the west, to help

Afghan teachers protest against the Taliban’s closure of classes to older girls.
Afghan teachers protest against the Taliban’s closure of classes to older girls. Photograph: EPA

I am a woman living in Kabul and I am a teacher. Until eight months ago, I was one of the staff at The City of Knowledge (COK), an educational centre that helped women go to university and pursue the careers of their choice. Through my work, I witnessed the ambition and hope of many women in my country. Since the Taliban came back, our life has drastically changed. We are like moving bodies without souls. Our dreams, and the knowledge we could have had, are shattered.

I always believed life was a progression, but I have seen in the past few month’s my country’s rapid regression to the middle ages. Before, women and girls were still taking tiny steps towards a better future. Now, just going to school has become an unattainable dream for hundreds of thousands of them.

Our lives were far from perfect before the Taliban returned to power. Every day my young students risked their lives to get to schools and tuition centres like ours, which were targets in the war. But the moment the girls entered the school, they bloomed – despite the bloody attacks outside and a dire economic and security situation, I could see their hopes for fruitful careers as doctors, engineers and lawyers.

Afghan women and girls take part in a protest in front of the Ministry of Education in Kabul.
‘Open the schools’: Afghan girls protest in Kabul for right to education

But with just a stroke of his pen, US diplomat Zalmay Khalilzad, who negotiated the US “peace agreement” with the Taliban, threw us into a dark pit of ignorance, terror and brutality within a matter of hours.

A few months ago, the Taliban pledged to reopen girls’ schools. Unsurprisingly, they are now backtracking on that commitment. Women cannot work or leave their homes without a burqa, they cannot laugh, wear makeup or heeled shoes, they cannot be with a man who is not their mahram (father, brother, husband or son). They cannot go to school or university.

As a teacher, I dreamed that my students would become Afghanistan’s future doctors, engineers, lawyers, scientists, artists and technical experts, inspiring countless others to do the same. With the Taliban once again in complete control of our country, our school has been forced to close. Many of my fellow teachers have fled our country, fearing for their lives.

I remember telling my students the news. Some of them said: “Is this not our right? Is it a crime to seek education? For god’s sake, billionaires are going into outer space and we are not even allowed to attend a school!” The west has played a horrible game with our country over the decades. I think it is the biggest crime against humanity to never let a country progress. The US and its allies handed our already battered motherland over to a bunch of criminals and terrorists, and it is women and girls who are paying the price now.

Afghanistan is far from free, so the responsibility to help push for change in our country falls to those outside our borders who have the liberty and means to raise their voices.

Ultimately, the policies and approach the US and other western powers have towards the wellbeing, equality and empowerment of women worldwide will only change if the people of their countries demand it. And so my message is for you, the people in the west, who elect these governments. You have a moral obligation to accept more refugees from Afghanistan and other countries, and to increase aid to organisations working for the empowerment and protection of women in the world’s most dangerous places.

If the politicians currently in power are unwilling to take these steps, it is imperative that western populations take action to replace them with leaders who will. You have the power to elect your representatives, we do not. As a woman living in Kabul, I urge you to show your solidarity and courage and to support and stand with us. Help us empower women and girls once again.

  • The author is a former teacher at the now closed COK, an education centre in Kabul for girls and women supported by the charity V-Day. Her name has been changed to protect her security
The girls I taught in Kabul were Afghanistan’s future. The Taliban has taken that away