The following are excerpts from the remarks of Shabana Basij-Rasikh at “Not There Yet: A Data-Driven Analysis of Gender Equality” on March 9, 2015.
The Value of Our Daughters
When I was ready to start elementary school 19 years ago, the Taliban took over Afghanistan and made it illegal for girls to go to school.
So, almost every day for the next six years, I would walk through Kabul’s streets and into a darkened living room that served as a secret school. If caught by the Taliban, the punishment could have been severe, including death.
The crime? We were girls and we wanted to learn.
But, you see, my Afghan parents were committed to educating their Afghan daughters, no matter the risk. My father used to tell me when I was scared or tired and wanted to give up: “education” he would remind me “is the only thing that no one can take from you.”
That is the Afghanistan I was raised to believe in. An Afghanistan that knows the value of its daughters.
A Haven: The School of Leadership, Afghanistan
I was 12 when the Taliban fell and I set foot in a formal school for the very first time in my life. I did well and won a scholarship to go to school in the U.S.
The year I entered Middlebury College, I learned that only 6% of Afghan women had a bachelor’s degree. Sitting on the college’s bucolic campus, I felt extremely lucky but also overwhelmed, guilty, and morally obligated. I decided then to use my education to make sure other Afghan girls have similar opportunities.
In 2008, I co-founded SOLA – the School of Leadership, Afghanistan – which is the first, and only, boarding school for girls in my country. It is a haven where girls can focus on their studies away from the obligations that consume them at home. In a country torn apart by ethnic tension, it is a school where girls from all provinces and ethnic groups study and learn from one another.
SOLA’s near term goal is to grow from 34 students from 14 Afghan provinces to 340 students from every province– our future leaders. To date, 42 SOLA students have won scholarships to 42 schools in 6 countries.
Afghanistan’s “No Ceilings” Generation
Fourteen years ago, when the Taliban were overthrown, only several hundred girls attended school in Afghanistan; today, that number is nearly 4 million.
Fourteen years ago, I was sneaking into someone’s living room to study, but today I am working to create a world-class boarding school for Afghan girls.
Fourteen years ago, an Afghan girl wasn’t allowed to dream about being anything other than some man’s wife; but today, girls like me, like the students of SOLA, have grand visions to affect real change.
However, these gains are fragile and not enough.
More girls need access to school, and many more need opportunities to study beyond primary school. Afghanistan is still an infant democracy facing great challenges, but that only makes our work even more urgent.
I have a 5-month old niece, Haska. My ambition is that she will grow up in an Afghanistan that is committed to educating all its daughters. That is the future I am working toward.
We’re not there yet, but we can be. Learn more about the gains girls and women have made around the world and the gaps that remain. Spread the word, get motivated, and help inspire a No Ceilings generation.