No woman is truly free until we are all free. The women of Afghanistan are suffering under the oppressive rule of the Taliban but it is within our ability to empower and support them in their fight for equality!
Hear from a past student on the effectiveness of underground schools, learn about Sahar’s programs from Shogofa Amini, Program Manager, and understand how our efforts are making a difference for Afghan women.
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This week, as we observe Children’s Mental Health Week, it’s crucial to shed light on an ongoing crisis that continues to undermine the mental well-being of Afghan children, particularly girls. The Taliban’s stringent policies, including the prohibition of education for girls beyond the sixth grade, are not just a denial of fundamental rights but also a significant source of psychological distress and mental health issues among Afghan children.
In light of the current educational and societal climate in Afghanistan, the statistics offer a stark insight into the challenges faced by Afghan girls and women following the Taliban’s educational restrictions. Since the Taliban’s edict in September 2021, the education of girls over the age of 12 has been indefinitely halted, resulting in 1.1 million girls and young women being deprived of access to formal education. This ban has escalated to the point where currently, an estimated 80% of school-aged Afghan girls and young women, amounting to 2.5 million individuals, are out of school. Alarmingly, nearly 30% of Afghan girls have never had the opportunity to enter primary education. The situation worsened with the suspension of university education for women in December 2022, affecting over 100,000 female students across both government and private higher education institutions. Source: Unesco
The repercussions of these bans are not confined to education alone but extend into the broader societal and economic realms. The prohibition on women’s education is exacerbating a crisis for all Afghans, leading to job losses among tens of thousands of teachers and support staff, and impacting private institutions and businesses financially dependent on girls’ education. Afghanistan’s economy, already in a fragile state, is further strained as women are excluded from the job market, potentially costing the country billions of dollars in GDP. Moreover, the prioritization of Islamic knowledge over basic literacy and numeracy is paving the way for a generation devoid of contemporary or secular education, which is crucial for economic advancement. Source: CTV News
Before these suspensions, Afghanistan had seen a significant increase in the enrolment of girls and women in education. Between 2001 and 2018, the number of girls in primary school surged from almost zero to 2.5 million, and by August 2021, girls constituted 40% of primary education students. The presence of women in Afghan higher education had increased almost twentyfold, from 5,000 in 2001 to over 100,000 in 2021, with literacy rates for women doubling during this period. Source: Unesco
The return of the Taliban to power in Afghanistan has seen the reinstatement of severe restrictions on women’s and girls’ rights, including access to education. According to a report by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, the Taliban has effectively barred girls from attending school beyond the sixth grade. This policy not only curtails their right to education but also isolates them from their peers and the broader social environment, which is essential for their cognitive and emotional development.
The impact of these restrictions extends beyond the realm of education. The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) has emphasized that quality education must be equally accessible to all, as it is a cornerstone of societal advancement and individual well-being. The denial of education to Afghan girls not only breaches their human rights but also contributes to a broader climate of gender discrimination and social injustice. Such an environment fosters feelings of worthlessness, anxiety, and depression among girls, who are forced to accept a future devoid of the opportunities that education provides.
These statistics highlight the dire consequences of the Taliban’s educational restrictions on Afghan women and girls, underscoring the urgency of international support and intervention to restore their right to education and contribute to Afghanistan’s development.
Moreover, the psychological impact on children witnessing the suppression of their mothers, sisters, and friends cannot be understated. The collective trauma experienced by a generation growing up under such oppression is likely to have long-lasting effects on their mental health. The sense of powerlessness and the internalization of gender-based discrimination can contribute to a range of mental health issues, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety, and depression.
During Children’s Mental Health Week, it’s essential to recognize the unique challenges faced by Afghan children, especially girls, and advocate for their rights to education and mental health support. Education is not just about acquiring knowledge; it’s about building confidence, fostering resilience, and nurturing the social skills necessary for a healthy mental state. Denying Afghan girls access to education not only hampers their personal development but also perpetuates a cycle of mental health issues that could hinder the progress of an entire society.
Sahar Education, in its commitment to the empowerment of Afghan girls and women, has developed a comprehensive suite of programs that go beyond traditional education. Understanding the multifaceted challenges faced by women and girls in Afghanistan, Sahar’s programs are designed to provide them with the tools and knowledge necessary for personal empowerment, mental well-being, and societal change. Our curricula encompass a wide range of topics critical to women’s empowerment, including mental health awareness, coping skills, leadership development, conflict resolution, child marriage prevention, and women’s health and reproduction. These subjects, often considered taboo and not covered in the Afghan school system, are vital for the holistic development of the girls and women we serve.
The workshops and courses offered by Sahar Education serve as a safe space for participants to discuss and learn about sensitive topics openly. Feedback from the girls involved in our programs consistently highlights the immense value they find in these workshops. By addressing issues directly affecting them and their communities, Sahar helps to foster a supportive environment where girls can build confidence, resilience, and a sense of agency. The discussions on difficult subjects not only equip them with critical life skills but also strengthen the communities within the Sahar courses. This approach ensures that the benefits of our programs extend beyond the individual participants, contributing to the broader goal of societal transformation and gender equality in Afghanistan.
This Children’s Mental Health Week, let us renew our commitment to fighting for the rights and well-being of children worldwide, starting with the urgent need to support Afghan girls’ right to education. Through education and empowerment, we can combat the mental health crisis and pave the way for a brighter, more equitable future for all.
February marks the end of the winter break for many Afghan schools. This is also an important month for the mission of Sahar. Several of our programs run around school schedules and this month will see the return of our Stealth Sisters, Underground TechSheroes, and Men as Partners in Change to their classrooms.
But for many others in Afghanistan, the return to school is a harsh reminder that they have been left out. Sahar receives almost daily pleas from women and girls through email and social media, asking to be enrolled in our programs. We are working hard to expand our programs and bring hope to more of these desperate girls.
You can learn more about the students in our programs by visiting our updated website or reading our 2023 Impact Report.
90 Students enroll in Underground TechSheroes second round!
Today marked the beginning of the second round of Underground TechSheroes in Afghanistan! 60 students began the IT course and another 30 embarked on Coding.
This program is open to students from 15 to 20 years old who are banned from formal education under the current regime. Past students have graduated with the skills and confidence necessary to pursue employment in medical offices, become freelancers, and enroll in online courses.
This program is made possible not only by your support but also by the bravery of the teachers who hold these programs in secret locations for our students. Despite the heightened risk for the girls and the team with recent reports of the Taliban arresting women for going against their policies, they are committed to the success of these programs.
The new year brings new opportunities to change the lives of Afghan girls.
International Day of Women and Girls in Science
This yearly celebration of the contributions of women in the sciences is a reminder to all girls and women that their dreams are possible. Consider donating in the name of your support for women in STEM on February 11th, 2024.
Quarterly Zoom Round Table
Join Sahar Education on March 7th, 2024 to learn how underground education is changing lives this year! Register today!
Get to Know Afghanistan
Eager to understand Afghan culture further in this time of crisis for the people of this embattled country?
“I first read A Thousand Splendid Suns just after the return of the Taliban in 2021 when Afghanistan dominated headlines around the world. If we need any reminder of why we should stand in solidarity with Afghan women now more than ever, this book is surely it. It’s a really intense story of a world we all hoped was far behind us – and yet it’s more relevant than ever to understand the lives of women under the Taliban.”
There are many ways to support the women and girls of Afghanistan. We encourage you to immerse yourself in artwork, books, and interviews about the country.
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Hunger is skyrocketing in Afghanistan and children are suffering. Many families make hard decisions to sell their daughters into forced marriage as early as 6 years old. This practice has skyrocketed since schools were closed with no prospect of daughters bringing in money and helping support their families any other way. (Source: Washington Post In the new Afghanistan, it’s sell your daughter or starve)
Across Afghanistan, child marriages have skyrocketed, and not only because of economic collapse. Families once hoped that their daughters, when educated, might find good work and contribute to the family income. Today, under the Taliban’s ever-increasing restrictions, school is prohibited for girls after the sixth grade, and work options for women are few. Sequestered at home, a girl becomes just another mouth to feed. But as a bride, she’s a valuable commodity. A $2,000 bride price is enough to feed a family for a year. For the girls, of course, this is a nightmare.
A child bride is sold for around $2,000. They are subjected to abuses most of us dare not imagine. And it is preventable.
Girls and women who participate in underground schools come away with the skills and determination to start home businesses, freelance, and teach their own schools, bringing income without being sold. These programs are a gateway to freedom for so many.
In December, CNN reported that suicides and depression are rising in Afghanistan among girls and women. Women’s Empowerment courses in Sahar programs tackle the stigma and hardship of depression and give girls support and hope where many are without.
Experts say reliable statistics on suicide and suicide attempts aren’t compiled in Afghanistan, but rights groups and doctors say they’ve seen an increase under Taliban rule.
Dr. Shikib Ahmadi has been working six days a week and longer hours than ever, seeing patients at a mental health clinic in Afghanistan’s western Herat province. He’s using a pseudonym because he fears the Taliban will punish him for speaking to foreign media.
Ahmadi said the number of female patients at his clinic has surged 40% to 50% since the Taliban’s takeover two years ago. Around 10% of those patients kill themselves, he said.
Early marriage prevention has long been a topic of Sahar programs and we continue to tackle this sensitive topic in our underground courses, including the Men as Partners in Change program. Educating men and women on the dangers of early marriage is an important step in prevention.
Forced and child marriage is human trafficking and it’s becoming more common in Afghanistan due, in part, to strict bans on secondary education and restrictions on employment for women and girls. Underground schools give an avenue to these families, a route to take that doesn’t involve selling their daughters to the highest bidder.
This January, take a stand against human trafficking.
“In the wake of unprecedented challenges and transformative shifts in Afghanistan’s socio-political landscape, Sahar Education emerges as a beacon of hope and resilience. As we navigate the complexities of a post-2021 era marked by the Taliban’s takeover, Sahar Education steadfastly continues its mission to empower women and girls through education.
This Impact Report for 2023 unveils the organization’s unwavering commitment to providing underground education, demonstrating the indomitable spirit that has defined Sahar’s journey since its inception in 2009.
Before the Taliban’s resurgence, Sahar Education was at the forefront of positive change in Afghanistan. From constructing schools for girls to operating teacher training centers and offering women’s empowerment classes, the organization played a pivotal role in shaping a brighter future for Afghan women and girls. The abrupt shift in the country’s dynamics necessitated a strategic pivot, leading Sahar to adapt its approach while staying true to its core values.”
Seattle group launches secret schools for Afghan girls under Taliban rule by Nina Shapiro shared our story with the Greater Seattle area and the world on December 25th, 2023.
When the Taliban reclaimed Afghanistan in 2021, Seattle-based Sahar found its mission completely undermined.
For almost 20 years, the nonprofit had worked to educate Afghan girls, denied education under the first Taliban regime in the 1990s. Sahar repaired schools and built new ones, which it turned over to Afghanistan’s education ministry to run.
The organization’s showcase was a school for 3,000 girls in northern Afghanistan, designed by the prestigious Seattle firm Miller Hull in collaboration with the University of Washington’s architecture department. The nonprofit had also broken ground on what was to be the country’s first public boarding school, also designed by Miller Hull and intended for rural girls who had to walk miles to school — risking kidnapping and attacks as Taliban traditionalists waged their insurgency.