Mahbooba’s Secret Classroom: Educating Female Students
The Taliban have denied educational opportunities to a large number of female students throughout Afghanistan, forcing them to remain at home. As a result, some of the girls have taken up tailoring classes, while others are helping around their houses. However, some female students have established secret study sessions in their homes in order to inspire hope in those whose educational rights have been denied by the Taliban.
Mahbooba was initially unaware that girls‘ education had been suspended when she first heard the news of the university closures on her social media account in late December 2022. The next day, she went to her university to verify the reports. However, when she arrived at the university gate, the Taliban members refused her entry, causing her to return home in frustration.
In a conversation with Hasht–e–Subh, Mahbooba stated that the Taliban had prevented her from entering the university when she had wanted to go there for the last time. She further explained that she was unable to study in Afghanistan due to being a female who was not permitted to pursue higher education, noting that the Taliban were generally fearful of women receiving higher education.
The Taliban‘s decision to suspend education in Afghanistan caused deep sorrow among the schoolgirls. Mahbooba had lost all hope of continuing her education and was considering her future at home. However, when her neighbors asked her to teach their children, she was motivated to combat the despondency caused by the restrictions on female education. Mahbooba went on to say that, in response to her neighbors‘ request, she set up a secret classroom for girls who had not received any schooling.
Mahbooba further expressed her surprise, as she had expected to remain at home for the time being. She pondered what she could do if she were to stay at home, and concluded that she should at least attempt to contribute to society if she was unable to study. She was inspired by the fact that her next–door neighbors had asked her to teach their children, and she asked herself, “Why can‘t I?” in light of their willingness to send their children to her in such circumstances.
Mahbooba acknowledged that her mother was one of the most supportive people when she began her girls–only, secret school. Her mother congratulated her and expressed her pride in having such a daughter when she chose to educate the girls.
Mahbooba has been presented with new opportunities for survival in a time of vulnerability due to the establishment of a secret school. She brings the girls home at various points throughout the day and instructs them in a variety of topics, despite being aware of the potential risks of her profession. Mahbooba teaches using a picture frame and a drawing board. There are students of all levels in her clandestine class, and they all strive to attain a prosperous future.
Mahbooba is not the only one taking the risk to educate young women on a daily basis in this place; since Zainab (a pseudonym) joined her, they have been teaching together to secure the educational future of deprived females. Zainab is a student at Kabul University, who, like Mahbooba and other female university students in Afghanistan, has been deprived of higher education.
Zainab stated that they had been compelled to establish this secret classroom when the Taliban girls were denied access to higher education in schools and universities. She added that there were numerous girls from various backgrounds studying there.
In order to ensure that their children do not miss out on an education, families who disagree with the Taliban‘s decision to close girls‘ schools send their daughters to Mahbooba‘s secret classroom. When the Taliban regained political power in Afghanistan, Arezo was in seventh grade. Nevertheless, Arezo has continued to learn from Mahbooba and Zainab alongside other girls, and she now attends this clandestine classroom every day. Arezo told Hasht–e–Subh that, with the help of Mahbooba‘s clandestine classroom, she can now have some hope for the future, noting that she could no longer keep up studying and build her future as the Taliban prohibited all girls from attending secondary and high schools.
Afghanistan has a long history of establishing clandestine educational institutions since Afghan women began transforming their homes into classrooms for uneducated women and girls during the Taliban regime from 1996 to 2001. These schools were established by female teachers in Kabul and other provinces at that time in order to oppose the Taliban‘s restrictions on women‘s and girls‘ education, which posed a great risk.
As the Taliban regained control, they prohibited girls and women from engaging in sports, education, and employment. Nevertheless, Mahbooba and Zainab‘s clandestine classroom has enabled female students to gain an education and aspire to a promising future, as they have taken the risk to defy the Taliban‘s edicts and illiteracy, despite being cognizant of the repercussions if the Taliban were to discover their clandestine education.
Mahbooba further declared that there are numerous risks, one of which is security. It is inconceivable to fathom what kind of destruction could occur if the Taliban were to discover our secret classroom. We are cognizant that the Taliban are vehemently against women‘s and girls‘ education in Afghanistan, yet we persist in spite of the fact that we do not feel secure.
On August 15, 2021, the Taliban took control of Afghanistan, resulting in the temporary closure of all schools. After a few weeks, boys‘ schools were allowed to remain open, but female schools were suspended, leading to the Taliban‘s decision to prohibit girls from attending secondary and high schools. In December 2022, the Taliban further banned girls and women from attending universities in Afghanistan. Despite the Taliban‘s Ministry of Education and Higher Education officials claiming that they would soon resume girls‘ education, they have not yet fulfilled this promise in the two years since they assumed power.