Afghan girls and women in great danger when US troops leave

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“Do not give up us !” This is the message I am getting from courageous and educated Afghan women – as the Pentagon advances the date for the final withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan in mid-July.

There is a last-minute scramble from the Pentagon to plan the evacuation of 18,000 translators who have worked with the US military, but it’s still unclear if that will happen.

But little thought seems to have been given to the plight of the thousands of Afghan women who have been educated and found employment in the past two decades since the defeat of the Taliban – or the plight of millions of female college students. More than a third of the nine million children in school in Afghanistan are now girls, but that number is declining as the Taliban ends education for girls in rural areas. Meanwhile, die-hard Islamists attack and bomb girls’ schools.

A conversation with two brilliant Afghan university students is a reminder of how so many Afghan girls struggled to get an education. These gains, which US officials brag about, could disappear overnight if the Taliban seize power.

The students are deeply concerned, but have ideas for how Americans can still help.

“Don’t give up on us,” urges Yasameen Mohammadi, a graduate of Bucknell University in Lewisburg, Pa., Who is starting a master’s degree at the University of Pennsylvania.

She was born a refugee after her parents fled the Taliban regime in the 1990s. When her family returned to Afghanistan in 2005, her father chose the poor neighborhood of Dasht e Barchi in Kabul because he wanted to send Mohammadi to Afghanistan. unique Marefat school. The school was founded by another returnee refugee, visionary Aziz Royesh, who sought to provide equal educational opportunities for girls.

“My father always said ‘I’m ready to sell my eye for your education,’” Mohammadi recalls. “Marefat really motivated me and our teachers were full of hope for the future. I grew up in a time when girls were treated like human beings.

I visited the Marefat school in 2010 and I was deeply moved by the unwavering determination and optimism of the high school girls. (Most are from the Hazara Shiite minority whom the Taliban persecute as infidels.) Their open trust was a far cry from my visit to Kabul in 1999 under the Taliban when girls’ education was banned and girls fell apart. sneaked into secret schools.

Mohammadi was helped by the New Jersey-based Afghan Girls Financial Aid Fund (AGFAF) to attend high school and college in America, and now wants to create educational projects for people in war zones. With the help and fundraising of AGFAF, she built the first library for the blind at the Kabul School for the Blind.

“Part of me is very scared and worried about a Taliban takeover,” she said, “but looking at friends and cousins ​​at home and seeing how far they’ve come … I can’t understand how the Taliban is so savage and closed-minded. The people who fought for an education, I don’t know how they can fight back.

Qamarnisa Ayoub also finds it difficult to imagine the future of Afghanistan. She hopes to return to Kabul as a doctor. (“My father wanted me to be Minister of Health,” she recalls.) With help from AFGAF, she attended Wagner College in New York and is now a student researcher at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center from Boston.

But his high school, Sayed Ul-Shuhada School, was bombed this month, targeting girls who were dropping out of class and killing around 90 students. “The school was badly damaged,” she says, and the students are still dying. It is more difficult for them to convince parents to let them attend.

The school will never run out of students, says Ayoub, because so many parents still want to educate their daughters. (When she attended, the girls attended classes in tents and only received their own building three years ago.)

“But many teachers are afraid to come back. Ayoub is working with AGFAF to raise funds to help buy 16-20 security cameras and hire 5-7 private guards, as well as rebuild classrooms.

Fortunately, the Andeshagah library that she built at school in the summer of 2017 under the supervision of AGFAF, which was used for adult literacy, computer classes and a learning center, did not has not been destroyed.

The contrast between the gains girls have over the past two decades and what might come to come is staggering. Her two nieces still cycle to school and play soccer, which she was not allowed to do when she was in high school. “There is going to be a drastic change if the Taliban come back,” she said, “and all of these opportunities will disappear. “

So how can Americans help Afghan girls and women fight back?

Make the US government hold the Taliban to account, Ayoub urges. “They cannot just hope that the Taliban will allow women to exercise their human rights. She also hopes ordinary Americans will help Afghan civil society activists continue to build and improve schools.

Mohammadi urges Americans to continue supporting educational opportunities for Afghan women and minorities, and to connect local American schools to Afghan schools with cultural exchanges.

“God forbid one hundred percent, but if the day comes when the Taliban take over,” she adds, she hopes Americans will help develop distance learning projects for girls and women Afghans. Her latest request: “Please keep an eye on the plight of women and minorities and let the world know what’s going on. “

For Americans who want to start helping now, AGFAF (agfaf.org) and the Bamyan Foundation, which provides scholarships to Marefat and other schools (bamyanfoundation.org) are a good place to start.

Trudy Rubin is a columnist for the Philadelphia Inquirer. © 2021 The Philadelphia Inquirer. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency.

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