This is a matter to be catastrophized, and I’m scared to death for every Afghan woman in Afghanistan right now. So I will use the strongest words and I mean them.
As someone who graduated high school in a public girls’ high school in Afghanistan, I can assure you that our school system was something to be taken seriously. For the most part, in the early 2000s, school meant the mat or plastic sheet each student brought from their home to sit on. A blue UNICEF backpack lay beside most of the students. But the cheering faces of the children finally being able to have the opportunity to learn made it seem like their little thrones, little bundles of joy. A fretted teacher stood across from a blackboard and scarcely used chalk to preserve. Books were always wrapped to protect the cover from wearing off, some wrapped it with shopper bags. Under the heat, under the rain, it didn’t matter. They were grateful it was no longer shooting missiles at the tents that they were sitting under.
Fast forward, and the classrooms were at last built on the fields that buried our ancestor’s broken bones, and broken dreams, so we could be the newly planted seeds. Over sixty students cramped inside each class. However, as we leveled up to the next grade, the artwork on the painted hallways was modernized, and our books improved to international standards. 17 mandatory subjects in high school and a competitive curriculum. My twelfth-grade corridors had a lab and the utilities for science projects, a computer lab, an art room, and a beautiful hall where I once stood on the stage and gave a speech to the girls to not give up on their dreams. I’m broken and too mortified to stand there again and say the same thing while looking at their flooded eyes today.
During each grade, at least once a month if not a week, a threat lurched in our hearts. Another school was bombed, and another educational center blew up. A girl’s high school received a tomb and another a shroud with a warning letter. In tenth grade, I remember it was the worst. But our principal and all of our teachers would shield us until every girl was safely out of the school and dismissed. We were dismissed at random hours, from random exit doors. But we had faith in a safer future and held on to the might of the pen. We were the youth for the change, and we knew it.
Almost every girl in my class would then leave school for the college entrance exam training center. Under the blazing sun, or the frostbitten mornings during the winter break, when it came to their dreams of becoming a doctor, a scientist, or an engineer, nothing could stop them. I witnessed each of them losing sleep over getting ready for the test. And preparing for it at least took a year.
We had our Kankor (college entrance exam) on August 5th, 2021, and gave the exam while watching commanders walking German shepherds in the hallway of Kabul University. For moments it would feel like walking through a battlefield, but we did it. And I couldn’t be more proud of the way the Afghan soldiers controlled the situation so students would make it safe and sound. They were heroic.
10 days later, on the night of August 15th, 2021 Afghanistan fell to the hands of barbarism. A quiet lament shrouded Afghanistan that night and is left chiming somewhere at the core of our being. Sometimes I fear we will never stop hearing its haunting whimpers.
The right to learn and ascend to the next level wasn’t something the girls in Afghanistan were born to have, we earned it by overcoming sheer adversities. And when it is snatched away like that by a group of misogynists cosplaying divinity with their phony beards, it hurts, a lot.
The girls got into public universities, which are the hardest to get in, because of the high demands. Despite the dress code being forced on girls, limitations to the majors they could study, the fact that no girl over sixth grade was and is still not allowed to go to school, and concerns about the Taliban screaming and being barbaric, the girls continued to go, bravely, and boldly. Until the Taliban finally declared yet another, utterly nonsensical prohibition, which was not surprising at all considering their actions in just the late 90s.
Conducting forced marriage isn’t something new to them, and their tendency to viciously pick young girls for themselves. They do that by asking her hand from the families through power play and by forced status, by intimidation! It shouldn’t be surprising if their next step was to do it openly.
Over a month ago, forms were sent to my friend’s house in one of the provinces, asking the parents about the details of the young girls and their ages in the house. They fled right away. I could be a victim if I did not evade wearing my mother’s wedding ring.
Another tragedy this leads to is the girls marrying against their will. Since the fall of Afghanistan, the rates of girls being given away have drastically increased. Some families believe it’s better to give them away before their girls are forced to marry a Talib. It never stopped happening in the rural areas, but it’s time to speak up or we’re doomed for good this time. Radio Azadi has been documenting stories of early, child, and forced marriages these past 15 months.
All these prohibitions are leading us to the exact dark past we knew too well from the previous time they were in power. Are we going to sit here and let that happen? Nothing has changed about them and It’s about time the world takes note of it. If not now, then when? The mere declaration that the war has ended, doesn’t make it a reality.
“When I wake up, I think I’m late for school, but then I have the sad realization that my school is shut.” _Rahila, an Afghan schoolgirl.