It's no secret that education — formal or informal — is one key to success, and for Afghan women, education is especially crucial for creating a better future after 40 years of endless wars.
Growing up in Afghanistan, I lived most of my childhood under the rule of the Taliban, which denied women the right to go to school and get an education. It felt like I was in a prison, cut off from the world and unable to learn and grow. But I was determined to make a change, and that's why I'm here today.
My Afghan sisters today are facing the same desperation and anxiety that I battled two decades ago — in the last few days, the Taliban announced that all universities must close their doors to women; today, they announced that all non-governmental organizations (NGOs) must stop employing women. This means that women are not only cut off from education after the sixth grade, but they are effectively banned from using their skills and education to work in most professional jobs (NGOs accounted for the majority of them).
“An estimated 3.7 million children are out-of-school in Afghanistan – 60% of them are girls." (United Nations.) Of these girls, nearly 50% of them are not allowed to go to school. (Save the Children.) These are shocking statistics that cannot be ignored, as they are having both social and economic impacts on Afghanistan.
According to Save the Children, nearly 30% of all Afghan girls are showing signs of depression (compared to 16% of boys). The economy is also taking a hit: depriving women of an education will cost "Afghanistan 2.5 per cent of its annual Gross Domestic Product (GDP)," according to the UN. And in the last 12 months (since August 2022), this "translates to a loss of at least US $500 million for the Afghan economy."
While the Taliban claim that their actions are justified by Islamic teachings and are for the betterment of women in society, history says otherwise.
Education is a basic human right, and denying women access to it has no basis in any religion, including Islam. On the contrary, there is a long history of educated philosophers, scientists, and educated women, including women in Islamic history.
In recent history and in countries where women are given the opportunity to pursue an education, we have seen significant changes in health, economics, and social issues. From Wangari Maathai in Kenya, who led the Green Belt Movement to plant trees and empower women, to Tawakkol Karman in Yemen, who won the Nobel Peace Prize for her work in advocating for women's rights. These women are just a few examples of how education can empower women to make a difference in their societies.
We can also look to ancient history for examples of how educated women have changed societies for the better. In ancient Greece, although women did not receive a formal education, they were still able to make significant contributions to the development of philosophy, science, and literature.
Hypatia of Alexandria was a philosopher and teacher of mathematics who wrote books on philosophy and astronomy, and she is considered to be the first female mathematician. Imagine the progress of Greek society had all girls received a formal education during Hypatia's life!
In the Islamic world, Sutayta Al-Mahāmali was a algebraic genius and is still remembered by mathematicians for her contributions in that field. Similarly, Labana of Cordoba was a Spanish intellectual and mathematician of the 10th century, who was also a famous grammarian and poet. They are just a few examples among so many.
Education is a fundamental human right, and denying women access to it has no basis in any religion, including Islam, which is why the Taliban's actions two decades ago, and again, today, make zero sense.
Education can help women to gain economic independence and to have a voice in their communities. It can give them the tools to create a better future for themselves, their families, and their countries. The Rug Mine's women (and men), who receive up to 50% more pay than they typically do, are examples of this: self-sufficient, economically independent, and empowered.
Today, it's Christmas Eve, and I'm thankful to be an Afghan woman who has achieved success through education! I own an online handmade rug shop called The Rug Mine, earned my associates degree in Science of Nursing last year, and I'm managing a top-performing location for a leading makeup brand (which is how I fuse my love for color palettes with luxurious rugs!). I'm living living proof that, as a girl who grew up under Taliban rule, education can be a key to success.
That said, parts of me feel numb as I'm typing right now — to think that two decades after I had to study in those dark basements, it's still necessary for me to write a blog article arguing that educated women are the key to Afghanistan's prosperity. It's so surreal that this is happening now and yet so ridiculously obvious that it shouldn't, but this is our world on December 24, 2022, and the inescapable reality of millions of Afghan women.
I hope that my story can inspire others around the world to advocate for the plight of Afghan women and make their voices heard. Education is power, and it can make a real difference in the lives of Afghan women, and help Afghanistan prosper.