‘Nothing to lose’ – Afghanistan’s undercover teachers
Female teachers running undercover schools in Afghanistan say they aren’t afraid of the Taliban because they have ‘nothing to lose’.
Girls over the age of 12 are currently banned from attending schools in Afghanistan under strict rules, but women across the country are secretly delivering lessons, ensuring children can continue their education.
Each day, up to 100 girls walk to these women’s houses, where they learn maths, English and Dari (the main language in Afghanistan). At one school, students take part in art lessons.
“Here, the trees of hope are being uprooted one by one, especially for women and for girls. Because of that we have to fight and we have to get our rights,” one teacher says. The women The PIE spoke to are not being named in this article for security reasons.
Another teacher explains that the girls at her school are divided into classes of around 20 students, and they attend in shifts throughout the day. Still, she says, it is hard to teach so many students in her small house.
Less than two years ago, these women’s lives were immeasurably different. One was a customer service representative for a telephone company; another was a student at Kabul University. When the Taliban seized power in August 2021, the freedom these women had known for the best part of 20 years disappeared.
They are now excluded from public life. They cannot work at most jobs outside of the home (most recently, women were banned from being aid workers in Afghanistan). They should avoid leaving their homes and, if they do, they must cover their faces and bodies. They cannot visit male doctors. They cannot travel more than 45 miles without a male chaperone.
Although stripped of opportunities themselves, these women are determined to make sure the girls in their communities don’t miss out.
“Afghan women and girls are also human beings,” one teacher says. “And we are Muslim. Our religion allows us to learn. So why do [the Taliban] call themselves Muslims? I want these words of mine to reach them.”
The Taliban is cracking down on dissenters. The women explain that officials are going from home to home, looking for secret schools like theirs. If they are caught, they will pretend to be running Islamic classes teaching the Koran, which girls are still allowed to attend. They stick Islamic symbols on the doors in their houses to back up their stories. The women do not know if this will be enough to prevent their arrest or punishment.
“The Taliban are afraid of every woman of Afghanistan”
But they are not afraid. They have nothing left to lose, they say.
“I think the Taliban are afraid of every woman of Afghanistan,” says one. “They think if the women of Afghanistan [are] strong and educated persons, maybe they can’t govern. They fear the women of Afghanistan.”
The teachers The PIE spoke to are connected through Wave of Hope, an organisation established by Zekria Farzad, an Afghan and former refugee.
While staying at Moria refugee camp in Greece in 2019, Farzad began to teach English to the children there. With help from others in the camp, he set up makeshift schools. Farzad has now relocated to Switzerland, but the schools continue across five refugee camps in Greece.
When the Taliban seized control, Farzad began supporting the women in his home country to run these secret schools, sending the money he earns from his work as a waiter to fund books and equipment.
“We want to find other strong women like them,” he says. “We are going to start more and more secret home schools for the girls.”
In the future, they hope to give girls access to online classes from abroad. “There are many people in many universities, many educational institutes, that are ready to continue supporting these girls,” Farzad says. The problem, he explains, is that most people in Afghanistan can’t afford fast enough internet for them to access these classes.
“Support us to be free from their bondage,” says one teacher. “Please don’t leave us alone on this road, we need someone to [help] us because it’s not safe here for girls.”
“I think they have a bright future,” another teacher says of her students. “We are improving our lives.”
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