Afghan women, girls push for education in the face of Taliban resistance

PBS NewsHour

Since reclaiming power of Afghanistan nearly one year ago, the Taliban have significantly rolled back rights for women and girls. The extremist government has also barred hundreds of thousands of girls from attending school. Pashtana Durrani, the executive director of LEARN Afghanistan and a visiting fellow at Wellesley College’s Centers for Women, joins Amna Nawaz to discuss.

Read the Full Transcript

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Since reclaiming power in Afghanistan nearly one year ago, the Taliban have significantly rolled back rights for women and girls. New rules limit where women can work, require women to cover their faces in public, and prohibit women from traveling without a male escort.

    The extremist government has also barred hundreds of thousands of girls from attending school.

    Amna Nawaz has more.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Judy, this week marks 300 days since nearly a million girls across Afghanistan were banned from entering their schools.

    Under pressure, the Taliban government announced in March that classes would resume, then reversed their decision, prompting women and girls to take to the streets in protest. This week, conflicting messages from Taliban officials about if or when those schools would reopen showed the government still has no plan for girls to return to the classroom.

    Joining me now for more on this is Pashtana Durrani. She’s the executive director of the nonprofit education group LEARN Afghanistan. She fled Afghanistan last year after the Taliban returned to power and is now a visiting fellow at Wellesley College’s Centers for Women.

    Pashtana, welcome back to the “NewsHour.” Good to see you.

    It’s been 300 days since girls were banned from secondary schools there in Afghanistan. What does that mean for all of those girls? What has life been like?

  • Pashtana Durrani, Executive Director, LEARN Afghanistan:

    They cannot socialize. They cannot mobilize.

    Most of these girls either have fled Afghanistan or are refugees in two different countries, or are at home, are even married off because of poverty right now in Afghanistan. Or, most importantly, they are poor and they cannot even survive.

    And the most important thing is, they are under depression because they cannot meet their friends. They cannot go outside. They cannot even exist without layers and layers of clothing, right? The girls are depressed. The girls are hopeless. And they’re the only ones fighting their own fight, and nobody’s even standing up for them.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    So, the Taliban keep saying they do intend to reopen those schools to let girls back into the classroom. They talk about capacity and resources and so on.

    Do you believe them when they say that they will let girls go back into school?

  • Pashtana Durrani:

    This is about resources.

    Afghanistan has always been a poor country. And kids always went to school. In the past 20 years, girls have always been going to school. And when it comes to the current situation, how come the resources are only limited when it comes to girls education?

    What about boys education? How come the boys are still going to school from grade one to grade 12? How come the girls from grade one to grade six are still able to go to school, the same schools are supposed to function for all classes?

    And how about the higher education, where girls can still go to school? I don’t think it’s about resources. And I don’t believe them when they say that. It’s all about political reach that they are doing right now.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    So, before you left Afghanistan — and we should just disclose too I was part of a very large team that helped you to evacuate, got you to the States, and you had been threatened by the Taliban, were in hiding there in Afghanistan.

    The organization you’re running on the ground reach some 7,000 students, 7,000 students across the country. What about today? Are you able to reach any of them now?

  • Pashtana Durrani:

    Well, first of all, thank you for welcoming me to your family after last year.

    And, sadly, today, we don’t have that number of students. We just have 400 students who are aged 13 to 18. They are from grade seven up until grade 12. And all of them are in secret schools. All of them go to these schools secretly. There’s nothing else to do. And we cannot wait for the Taliban to agree on this decision. We have to continue working and educating girls.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    What about these girls, though? I mean, they’re attending school secretly right now. Are they worried for their safety? Are you worried for their safety and that of the teachers?

  • Pashtana Durrani:

    Oh, yes, definitely.

    I’m most time — most of the time. I’m worried about the fact that, what if somebody follows them? What if — all this number of girls are going there, what if somebody follows them? What if somebody just raids the school? It has always been a concern.

    I talk to the teachers most of the time. Sometimes, they do tell me, oh, the Da’esh is going to attack this particular place. And I’m like, what if the Taliban do the same thing?

    So it’s always a conflict. At the same time, when you talk to the students, they have lost everything. Within the year, I was talking to my students. She was telling me the Afghanistan you got educated in and the Afghanistan I’m getting educated in are two different Afghanistans. They — it’s not the same of understand that you left.

    And, at the same time, you feel sorry for the fact that they could have had a better future, better than ours, but they don’t.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Pashtana, you continue to get and try to get those girls some kind of education. We have seen people take to the streets in Afghanistan.

    What else needs to happen? What else could other people be saying or doing right now that you think would help the Taliban, to pressure them to reopen those schools and let girls back into the classroom?

  • Pashtana Durrani:

    I think, for starters, international diplomats have to stop pleasing the Taliban, instead of going to Afghanistan and taking pictures with them and pleasing them and inviting them to all these big conferences and thinking that they will react normally.

    That’s not how they do. Afghan women, Afghan girls have done everything in anything in their power to make sure that they access their rights. It’s up to the international community to do the same thing. If the Taliban are traveling freely, stop them from traveling freely. If the Taliban are not letting girls get educated, why are their families living openly and happily in two different countries and they go to school?

    Why is that happening? Why is that not being stopped? So, all those things need to be in decision, and the international community needs to react, instead of just saying some statements on Twitter or saying stuff to make sure that they play their part.

    They need to do something about it.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Pashtana, if you could say one thing to the girls out there who are worried they may never be allowed back in school, what would you say?

  • Pashtana Durrani:

    So, I would say that it’s our country, and we have the right to exist, to get educated. It’s just time. And time will decide in our favor, yes.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    That is Pashtana Durrani, executive director of the education group LEARN Afghanistan, now at the Wellesley Centers for Women.

    Pashtana, thank you for your time.

  • Pashtana Durrani:

    Thank you.

Afghan women, girls push for education in the face of Taliban resistance