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How Afghan women and girls are defying the Taliban with secret schools: ‘We are not alone’

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Under the shadow of the Taliban’s oppressive rules, Afghan girls risk their lives, attending underground schools for a chance at freedom

She takes steps swiftly, her breath echoing in her head. Her body trembles under her black burqa; nobody can see the terror in her eyes. Hidden her books beneath the veil, she notices a Taliban checkpoint ahead and worries they might find out she is heading to school. She doesn’t know whether she will survive this and live to see one more day.

Why? Because she is guilty.

Guilty of being a girl.

Two years ago, it wasn’t this way. Diba was about to finish school and hoped to attend a public university in Afghanistan. Her family, though not rich, supported her because they believed education was the best way to a better life.

She spent late nights at the library, studying for the university entrance exam. During the day, she hung out with her friends, wore whatever she liked, and dreamed about her future, just like any other girl.

All her hard work paid off, and she became a computer science student at the university. Her dream had come true.

But then, the Taliban arrived. Everything collapsed overnight.

Her studies were swapped for hard labour, her bright clothing with a black veil covering her body head-to-toe.

Her future, her face, all disappeared.

“I could not believe that from now on, I have to stay home and weave carpet and do housework. With all the dreams that I had, I was captured in a prison with no way out,” says Diba.

With the takeover of the Taliban in Afghanistan, Diba was deprived of her basic rights as a human being. She has been banned from going to parks or any other public places unless a close male relative is with her. She has been banned from working outside the home. And like all females, she has been banned from studying.

Now, Diba has two choices: she can stay home and knot her dreams to the threads of a carpet she is weaving, or risk her life by going to an underground school.

With the Taliban’s takeover of Kabul on 15 August, 2021, history repeated its dark side for Afghan women. The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan has once again issued numerous orders for the systematic exclusion of Afghan women from society, including bans on speaking loudly or laughing in public, wearing high heels, displaying women’s names and photos in public, as well as their participation in radio or TV programs and various job sectors.

They also banned girls from going to universities and, later, prevented them from attending secondary schools.

And so many women went back to what they had done 25 years ago – creating underground schools. Since 1996, the first takeover of the Taliban, Afghan women have invented a form of defiance against the Taliban by continuing their education in secret schools. Underground schools are hidden places inside homes that are run mainly with the help of trusted volunteer teachers and families despite the threats to their lives.


22 Jan 2024

How Afghan women and girls are defying the Taliban with secret schools: ‘We are not alone’


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