During Taliban rule from 1996 to 2001 in Afghanistan, girls and women were denied access to education. Though the Taliban have left, their mentality and fanatics who subscribe to their ideology still try to keep more than one third of 10 million children going to school from attending school. They use all kinds of violence — from acid attacks and poisoning to burning down schools — to stop Afghan girls from receiving an education. In neighboring Pakistan, now-19-year-old activist and Nobel Peace Prize winner, Malala Yousafzai was shot in the head in 2012 by a Taliban gunman for her advocacy of girls’ education.
In April, 106 girls were poisoned during the school hours by a toxic gas at Chahar Bagh School, in Afghanistan’s western Farah province. The poor girls suffered from fever and shivering, and admitted to hospital after the horrific incident.
However, it was not the first time the Taliban targeted school girls in Afghanistan.
In September last year, more than 300 girls were poisoned by toxic fumes at two schools in Herat, and taken to hospital after they suffered nausea, pain and shortness of breath. A couple of month earlier, assailants on a motorbike threw acid in the faces of three teen girls on their way to school in the same province.
Attacks on schools in Afghanistan, particularly girls’ schools, have been rife in recent years, with most of them carried out by insurgents. According to the United Nations, the emergence of ISIS-affiliated groups in the eastern Afghanistan alone led to the closure of 68 schools, affecting more than 48,751 children in Nangarhar Province in 2015.
Razia Jan, 68-year-old founder of Zabuli Education Center [a two-story, 14-room school where more than 350 girls receive free education], told CNN:
“People are crazy. The day we opened the school, outside Kabul, they threw hand grenades in a girls’ school, and 100 girls were killed. Every day, you hear that somebody’s thrown acid at a girl’s face or they poison their water.
“It is heartbreaking to see the way these terrorists treat women. In their eyes, a woman is an object that they can control. They are scared that when these girls get an education, they will become aware of their rights as women and as a human being.”
In the beginning, Jan was asked to change her girls’ school into a boys’ school by four local men, because they claimed “the backbone of Afghanistan is our boys”. But an adamant Jan turned around and told them: “Excuse me. The women are the eyesight of Afghanistan, and unfortunately you all are blind. And I really want to give you some sight.” Jan has not seen the men since past eight years.
Women’s literacy in Afghanistan is among the lowest in the world. However, a change has taken place.The Zabuli Education Center not only teaches kindergarten through eighth grade, it tries its best to change the deep-rooted stigma against women’s education.
“When we opened the school in 2008 and I had these students coming to register, 90% of them could not write their name. And they were 12- and 14-year-old girls. Now, they all can read and write. They can touch the world just sitting in this house. The knowledge is something that nobody can steal from them.”
The UN has reported that 7.3 million underage girls are forced into marriage every year around the world: 12% of these girls are Afghans. The reports reveals that more than half the girls in Afghanistan are married before the age of 19, about 40% are married at an age between 10 to 13 years, 32% at age 14, and 27% at age 15. One of the main reasons behind this appalling statistics is their limited access to education.
Education for girls is a question of human rights and by educating its girls, Afghanistan can become a more equal and democratic society: No wonder, the extremists are stopping at nothing to keep girls in the country from accessing education.