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The Taliban’s War on Minds: How the Education Ban Harms Afghan Children’s Mental Health

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.

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February 2024 Updates

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.

Program Updates

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.

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Upcoming Events

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!

Join us on March 7th for the first virtual round table of 2024

Get to Know Afghanistan

Eager to understand Afghan culture further in this time of crisis for the people of this embattled country?

Read A Thousand Splendid Suns, recently recommended by Dua Lipa

A Thousand Splendid Suns

“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.

To get updates every month from Sahar, sign up for our newsletter below.

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Sahar Education Featured in The Seattle Times

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.

Then, the insurgents took power.

Nina Shapiro, The Seattle Times

Read the full article on the Seattle Times website.

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40 Women Enroll in Threads of Hope

This successful program has been restarted!

Threads of Hope is a literacy and sewing project designed for underprivileged and economically disadvantaged girls and women aged 18-40 who have not had the opportunity to get a formal education. The program provides participants with free-of-cost literacy, and sewing skills classes. Additionally, graduates are gifted their sewing machine upon completion of the course.

Our partner is integrating Sahar Education’s Women’s Empowerment and Health Workshops in the literacy class to educate participants about important topics such as mental health, early marriage prevention, and planned parenthood, and support them in their journey of self-empowerment.  

Besides learning how to read and write, the program aims to provide participants with the opportunity to gain skills that will lead them to become financially independent. Additionally, the program provides women with a safe space to come together and form a sense of community and belonging.

The first round of this program in Kabul, Afghanistan has 40 women enrolled and began in November 2023.

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Round 3 of Stealth Sisters Underway

Round Two Wrapped Up October 2023

In October, 20 girls graduated from the second round of the Stealth Sisters program. These girls celebrated their commencement like any other graduates- albeit in secret. The girls in this program are part of the 2.5 million girls forcibly barred from attending school by the Taliban. However, they have not let the situation in Afghanistan deter them. Thanks to your support, these girls learned English, computer skills, and women’s empowerment curricula. As they graduated, they had different plans for their futures but none of these 20 students would let their talents go to waste.

Some will start their home-based schools educating girls in their community about their rights, women’s health topics, mental health, the effects of child marriage, and more important topics. Others will start jobs working in medical offices or teaching online. A number of them will even use their newfound computer skills to apply for programs taking them outside Afghanistan for the first time. Although the Taliban has endeavored to squash the hope out of every girl and woman in the country, these 20 girls have found something worth fighting for.

Round Three Began November 2023

And, in November a new 20 students enrolled in the third round of the Stealth Sisters program. These students entered this underground school to make a difference in their own lives and their communities. Each of these girls is a rebel, fighting to learn and to dream whilst the Taliban works to keep all women locked in the darkness of oppression. 

Want to sponsor a Stealth Sister?

Now through January 1st, every donation to the Stealth Sisters Program qualifies for 50% matching! Sponsor a girl for only $165 thanks to matching! Every dollar counts!

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6th Grade Graduation Brings Turmoil to Afghan Girls

As another year comes to a close under Taliban rule in Afghanistan girls are losing hope for the future they were promised. Radio Free Europe reported on the dire situation on December 8th, 2023:

‘Hundreds of thousands of sixth-grade girls in Afghanistan attended the last day of the school year, many with tears in their eyes as they face an uncertain future because of Taliban policies that forbid them from further schooling and restrict their basic human rights.’

Imagine graduating 6th grade only to face the brutal reality of forced marriage, domestic servitude, or extreme poverty. This is the reality for those girls. Without continued education they will not be eligible for the few jobs open to women and their families will face hard decisions.

Under the current regime, the people are facing appalling conditions with little help from the defacto government or the international community leading to record dissatisfaction by the Afghan public. 

‘The Taliban’s policies are deeply unpopular among most Afghans. Even though dissent is often met with a harsh response by authorities, some people are still willing to criticize the government because the policies are seen as destructive.

In the Muslim nation of some 40 million people, activists and rights advocates accuse the Taliban of implementing “gender apartheid” by denying women education, work, freedom of movement, and deciding how they can appear in public.’

Furthermore, although girls’ education and the freedoms of women have been severely stilted there have also been damaging changes made to the education system affecting boys. 

A report titled Schools Are Failing Boys Too, from Human Rights Watch, is quoted in the article as saying 

‘curriculum changes, the firing of female teachers, corporal punishment, and other practices risk their education over the longer term as well.

Sahar Fetrat, a women’s rights researcher at HRW and the author of the report says the Taliban has caused “irreversible damage” to the education of both Afghan boys and girls.

“By harming the whole school system in the country, they risk creating a lost generation deprived of a quality education,” she said.’

With the fate of 40 million people hanging in the balance, we can only hope the international community will step up to pressure the Taliban into reversing these abhorrent policies. In the meantime, secret schools are among the few avenues open to girls who have aged out of the education system. 

Sahar offers underground programs to girls and women who are excluded from school in Afghanistan. In our programs, girls learn English, computer skills, coding, women’s health and mental health topics, tailoring, literacy, and women’s empowerment skills. 

We also offer a program for boys and young men that focuses on how men can support women in their fight for equality, how families are more functional with a partnership between the parents, how domestic violence and early marriage are wrong, and more important topics that we need the youth of Afghanistan to learn if we expect anyone ever to stand up and stop this oppressive regime. 

A graduate of the second 2023 Stealth Sisters program shares her thoughts

In October, 20 more girls graduated from the second round of our Stealth Sisters program. Even more girls are learning through our Underground TechSheroes program, also in its second round. And, the first rounds of our adapted Men as Partners in Change and Threads of Hope programs are underway as the year comes to a close.

Want to learn more about our programs? Watch our most recent round table on YouTube!

Want to support our programs? Bid on Auction items until December 15th or donate with 50% matching today through Global Giving!

You can change the life of a girl and her community, today!

You can change the life of a girl and her community.

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