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Fighting for girls' rights in Afghanistan

A student arrives at a class run by CARE in Ghazni, Afghanistan, on Aug. 28, 2023. Photo: Elise Blanchard/CARE

A student arrives at a class run by CARE in Ghazni, Afghanistan, on Aug. 28, 2023. Photo: Elise Blanchard/CARE

Imagine being a teacher in a place where they just banned girls from going to school.

Imagine what it is like to have to be the source of comfort and strength for these girls during such a time. How heartbreaking it must be to witness the brightness of these girls and to know that in a few months’ time, they too will be stripped of this basic right they all hold so dear — the right to education.

*Laila is a teacher. Her class is an Accelerated Learning Program (ALP) class run by CARE in Afghanistan, and when asked how she’s able to keep her students’ spirits so high despite knowing the school would be closing soon, the question made her so emotional that we had to pause so she could catch her breath.

“I am very proud of my students,” she said, eventually. “Because the day we met, the students really didn’t know anything, they were girls who were at home and were suppressed.

“Then, the CARE classes were organized, and we were able to make the study environment favorable for them.”

*Laila in her classroom. Ghazni, Afghanistan, Aug. 28, 2023. Photo: Elise Blanchard/CARE

“It is a matter of pride for us that we were able to bring these students from zero to this level,” she said.

“We are very happy that the interest of our students has reached the limit, and they have big goals in the future, they want to reach a high position; the students even wish to study in foreign countries.

“Even their families have accepted that their daughters have been changed, and they have been able to help with their families.”

As the outside world looks in on Afghanistan from afar it is understandable that many would assume that this education ban has broken the spirits of Afghan women.

In many cases, it has.

Women throughout Afghanistan are clearly suffering. Women are bearing the brunt of the changes that have happened in the last two years, and in many households, it is the woman who leads.

This means that it’s up to the woman to work and to support her household because of the economic crisis throughout the country.

But what does this mean? If women cannot work, if women cannot continue their education, what happens then? What hope is there? How can they effectively lead?

Students take a break in the courtyard after a grade 6 class, on Aug. 28, 2023. Photo: Elise Blanchard/CARE

Despite everything, CARE has worked to make sure girls in many provinces throughout Afghanistan are able to continue their education through Accelerated Learning programs.

Through these programs, girls ages 10 through 17 study six days a week throughout the year. Because of this rigorous study schedule girls complete two grades in one calendar year, passing each grade in six months.

I traveled to Afghanistan to talk with a few of these young women and girls who have taken part in the program, and they shared their stories with me — and asked me tough questions.

*Sahar, 17. Ghazni, Afghanistan, Aug. 28, 2023.Photo: Elise Blanchard/CARE

“How can I achieve my goals when I do not study?” one student named *Sahar, asked.

“Has anyone managed to become a teacher from home? To become a doctor or engineer? Or has someone been able to reach her aim from a house corner?”

“A woman is not only created for housework, but a woman is also a gentle being who must have her freedom and continue to work outside the home, and a woman is stronger than a man.”


“A woman can manage both housework and outside work. When she can do both, why is she not allowed? What is the reason that we should not study?”

Students, with *Sahar standing in front, participate in a grade 6 class. Ghazni, Afghanistan, Aug. 28, 2023. Photo: Elise Blanchard/CARE

“CARE has made it possible for us to continue our educations,” said *Henna a 15-year-old ALP student. “The lessons are very effective for us. Through the CARE program we have also been able to participate in English courses, buy clothes and shoes for ourselves, and we are able to become a source of help for our family.”

Students gather in the courtyard after a grade 6 class. Ghazni, Afghanistan, Aug. 28, 2023. Photo: Elise Blanchard/CARE

“Education means knowledge, awareness, defending one’s right and a comprehensive right; education is a comprehensive right for every person,” said *Sana, 16. “Our dear prophet said, ‘…seek knowledge from the cradle to the grave…’ Education is very important for us and through education and training, we can make our dreams come true. We can defend our rights and comprehensive rights, and we can increase our self-confidence,” said *Sana, 16.

A student arrives at class. Ghazni, Afghanistan, Aug. 28, 2023. Photo: Elise Blanchard/CARE

When I met *Sahar, a 17-year-old in Ghazni province who is part of CARE’s Community classroom, I asked her: if she could change the world, what would she do first?

She told me, “First of all, I would change people’s thoughts about education, that is, our government thinks that girls should not study, and that only boys should study and learn.

“This is a discrimination itself which has been created in our country, so first, I would destroy this discrimination.

The rights of boys and girls should be equal, and the level of education must be increased.

“Our education does not harm anyone. Our society does not need only male doctors, teachers, and engineers or only female, but both men and women need to get an education.”

Students participate in a grade 6 class. Ghazni, Afghanistan, Aug. 28, 2023. Photo: Elise Blanchard/CARE

“When the local classes started, I was very happy,” she said. “I thought, whoever gets an education can talk freely about their goals, and they can become self-sufficient and can reach their position. I thought that I could study, become self-sufficient, and I could find my purpose. The purpose in life is very important.”

“I want to be a teacher in the future, because a teacher can change a society and can teach manners and morals. If someone is a lawyer, judge, or engineer, it is the blessing of the teacher’s efforts they have been taught by a teacher. No one can become an engineer, teacher, or a judge without hard work and without having a teacher, so I want to become a teacher, a good teacher, until I can help my family and society.”

*Sana, 16. Ghazni, Afghanistan, Aug. 28, 2023. Photo: Elise Blanchard/CARE

“I want to become a doctor in the future so that I can serve women, people, society, and my country so that my people will be proud of me,” said *Sana, 16.

“We started to raise our voices that women have the right to education; they have the right to work. Women have the right to defend their rights, so that a woman can reach a rank. We want education and work. Women’s rights should be expected. A woman should not stay at home. A woman has the right to be president. A woman should participate in every type of work, because the rights of men and women are equal.”

A student recites homework during class. Ghazni, Afghanistan, Aug. 28, 2023. Photo: Elise Blanchard/CARE

It’s unfathomable for most to live in a country where basic rights have been stripped away — to live there and not know whether your daughter will be able to receive an education. But the women of Afghanistan continue each day, and will continue to fight for their rights until each woman and girl throughout their country has their basic rights restored.

“I ask the girls to come and join hands so the Afghanistan government will allow us to continue our educations,” said *Sana. “We do not want to just stay at home, and we need to be motivated. …Our schools must be opened tomorrow. If not tomorrow, the day after tomorrow.”

A student recites homework during at an Accelerated Learning Program class run by CARE in Ghazni, Afghanistan, on Aug. 28, 2023. Photo: Elise Blanchard/CARE

Adds *Laila: “I hope that they can hear the voice of Afghan girls’ educational problems and help us so that girls can be allowed to study again. That’s my only request or wish.”

She told me that these days are incredibly difficult for the girls in her community, but that she motivates the girls to study at home and to do extra activities on the side, to never get discouraged, and always keep studying until they reach their goals.

What would you tell the girls if you were in *Laila’s place?

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*To safeguard the privacy of the interviewees, the names have been altered.

*Classes observed in August 2023, these classes have finished since the story’s publication.

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