Magazine article New York Times Upfront

Helping Afghan Girls Get to School

Magazine article New York Times Upfront

Helping Afghan Girls Get to School

Article excerpt

Last year, workers in Afghanistan finished construction on the six-classroom brick-and-concrete Zarghona Middle School in Kandahar, and 300 Afghan girls who had never gone to school before are now students there.

The school owes its existence to a talk at the YWCA in Buffalo, N.Y., that I happened to attend with my mother in March 2002. It was a panel discussion on "Afghanistan, Women, and Islam," and the speakers introduced me to the plight of Afghan women and girls.

THE TALIBAN

From 1996 to 2001, Afghanistan was ruled by a conservative Muslim group called the Taliban, whose rigid interpretation of Islam stripped women of their rights. Girls were not allowed to go to school. The Taliban were ousted in November 2001 by U.S. and allied forces and Afghan rebel groups, but women are still struggling to regain their rights.

One of the speakers at the YWCA was Susan Safi-Rafiq, an advocate for Afghan women. She said that before the Taliban, women had made up a significant portion of the country's professors and doctors. That surprised and impressed me. She made a plea to help Afghan girls get the education they had been denied under the Taliban.

The thought of being denied an education because you were a girl was horrifying. I went to an all-girls school, and it was a very empowering experience. My school always seemed charged with a feeling of sisterly support that I know will always remain with me.

I thought that Afghan girls, after years of oppression, were entitled to the same sort of experience. …

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