Shoulder-to-Shoulder: Realizing the Power of Education

Since the fall of the Taliban, and with the assistance of the international community, Afghan women have secured incredible gains in education, health, civil society, and government — all in a short period of time.  As Afghanistan moves through a new period of transition, we must work together to help sustain and expand on these gains. In this blog series, we learn about Afghan women’s experiences – as told in their own words – and remember that we must stand Shoulder-to-Shoulder with Afghan women in their fight for equality and for the peaceful redevelopment of Afghanistan. Share these stories, and your own, on Twitter using #ShoulderToShoulder; you can also take our pledge today to stand with Afghan women.

by Shogofa

I spent five years of my life at home in Afghanistan, without going to school. My book, my pen, and the rights I had were taken away by the Taliban when I was only 10 years old. It is painful to remember that I spent my childhood frightened. I was supposed to play, and study – but instead, I faced death and war.

I remember the morning I woke up to the sounds of gunfire and bombs. I didn’t know what was going on, but I could see my mother and father were very scared and afraid. I remember the morning when I was trying to get ready for school and my father said I couldn’t go any more. I was afraid that had done something wrong, but I could not go to school because of the Taliban.

via Shutterstock
via Shutterstock

My mother hid my books and my school uniform, and my sister tried to hide videos, CDs, family pictures, and other documents. My father tried to break the old TV and video recorder and put them in the doorway, so if the Taliban got into the house, they would see that someone had already broken them. All these things looked mysterious to me since I wasn’t old enough to understand what was going on. But, I could see and feel the fear on everyone’s face in my family.

I also remember the day when my brother shouted, “The Taliban are coming! They took over Kabul, and they are now heading to Mazar-e-Sharif!” I didn’t know what it meant, but I could see the tension and worry in my parents’ faces. My father immediately decided we had to leave the country, and we boarded a bus to Pakistan.

There were some other families on the bus with children. I was excited to go to Pakistan even though I was unaware of what was going on. Suddenly, the bus stopped. The driver said, “I cannot go farther,” and when my father asked why, the driver said the Taliban had blocked the road. No one could leave. We went back home with no hope; we could hear gunfire from far away, and it was getting closer and closer every day.

My father eventually decided to send us, with our mother and our one-year-old nephew, to Kabul because the Taliban had already taken the city. I will never forget the moment when my father looked at us and said goodbye – like he would never see us again.

We knew that the Taliban had blocked all the roadways to Kabul, so we planned to go on foot, behind the mountains. We also decided to change our identities. My mother told us not to speak Uzbek because it would be dangerous for us if the Taliban knew we were Uzbek. Luckily my brother knew Pashtun, the Taliban language.

While on our way to Kabul, my brother tried to rent a horse, so we could travel easier with my baby nephew. At that moment, one of the Taliban stopped us and asked my brother why I was not wearing a burqa. He yelled at me, “Look down shameless girl!” and told my brother that I must wear the burqa. So, my brother bought me a white burqa, but it was hard for me to handle because I could not walk quickly and we were still traveling by foot.

After two days, my family arrived in Kabul. And after two months, my father called us to say that Mazar was safe, and we should come back. This time, we traveled by car instead of on foot, but there was danger all the way. At every check point the Taliban stopped our car looking for non-Pashtuns. Again we pretended we were not Uzbek.

When we arrived in Mazar-e-Sharif, everything was changed. It was dead city—smoke all over the place. We didn’t see any people. But you could see broken videocassettes on the street and tape hanging everywhere. The Taliban had announced that if they saw anyone with a TV or electronic device, they would kill or put them in jail forever.

I had missed my father a lot and was trying to ignore the things around the city. But when we saw that the Taliban had killed people and left them in the middle of the street, I was scared. There were a lot of questions in my mind, and I didn’t know how to get answers.

The only thing I wanted was to see was my father. When we arrived at our home, he opened the door, but I didn’t recognize him at first. He had grown a long beard and wore a turban. The first thing I asked him was whether I could go to school. I missed my class and my teacher. But my father said no and told me that I had to stay at home because of the Taliban’s rules.

My mother had been a principal of girls’ high school, so she made a classroom inside of our house and started teaching my sister and me. Sometimes, I invited my friends, but we had to be careful that no one knew we were studying. I missed my school, my teacher, and playing in the schoolyard. I felt as if I were in jail.

But from that time, I began to understand that education is powerful and that the Taliban didn’t want us to learn because they feared that power.

My mother decided to send my sister and me to a private school where we could learn English. Each day we traveled a different way to school and worried about the Taliban finding out where we were going. We were risking our lives, our parents, and teacher to be in school – where we wanted to be.

Then 9/11 happened and changed everything. Afghanistan became free from the Taliban, but fear of them remained. While many people were happy, some families were still afraid to let their children go to school. Women started going back to school but it was hard because a lot of their documents were missing they had to start all over again.

Still, 40 percent of students enrolled in school in Afghanistan are now female. Thousands of schools have been built with the help of the international community, and women are now studying in schools and universities in Afghanistan – learning, once again, how to be doctors, lawyers, business owners, government officials, and more.

I was lucky to grow up in a family where education was precious and daughters were treasured. My mother’s main goal in life was teaching women so that they would have an education. My father didn’t complete his education, but he supported my mother’s efforts. Both of them tried very hard to educate their children, and they did their job successfully.

Seeing how hard my parents worked to educate us, I appreciate the value of education. During the Taliban rule, there were times I would feel so hopeless. Education had always been sacred to us, and I was not able to see the future. But my mother never let us give up. She filled the house with books and gave us beautiful thoughts. She always told us, “Education is something we never lose. We might lose everything, but education always stays alive, even after we die. The pen and book are very powerful tools.” She devoted her life to encouraging women to go back to school, and her work must continue.

Today, both my parents are gone, but what they did in life remains alive. Their memory has given me the courage to come to the US to study, and with my education, I pledge to always support human rights and children’s rights in Afghanistan.

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