The Taliban regime’s sudden reversal of their plan to reopen secondary schools last month in Afghanistan to girls ignited international protest and declarations of solidarity around the globe.
But solidarity is not enough, says Pashtana Durrani, founder and executive director of the Afghan educational non-governmental organization called LEARN. “The young women of Afghanistan need action now,” she said.
“Any organization or person who is interested in seeing Afghanistan as a better place needs to support alternatives to structured learning controlled by the Taliban.
”That means investing in and supporting alternatives like LEARN, a non-profit which has provided community-based and online access to education to about 7,000 Afghan children and teenagers in the last few years.
“We can't wait for another army to come and rescue us,” said Durrani. “We can fight our own fight as long as the world chooses to listen to us, engage with us and not just stand in solidarity with us.
”One organization that is listening is Education International, representing more than 32 million teachers and education support personnel in 178 countries and territories. It is collaborating with the National Teachers' Elected Council of Afghanistan, providing support and working to protect Afghan colleagues, especially women teachers whose lives have been threatened.
Education International issued a statement that the Taliban extending the Grades 7-12 ban on girls' schooling was disappointing but not surprising.
“The policy reversal is deeply disturbing and is a direct violation of girls’ right to education,” said David Edwards, the general secretary of Education International. “It impacts the lives of millions of girls and deprives an entire country of the immense contribution these students can make towards a better future. Educators in Afghanistan and around the world will not stand for it. The international community will not stand for it.
”Along with support for grassroots organizations, Durrani recommends universities provide “safe spaces” in other countries for Afghan women to work for Afghanistan society.
She is raising funds for alternative schooling and humanitarian needs and speaking out from her position as a fellow at Wellesley College in Massachusetts.
When the Taliban returned to power in August, Durrani defiantly vowed to stay in the country and press on. However, as the Taliban cracked down on schooling and other freedoms for girls and women, some of LEARN’s educational activities were forced underground and Durrani’s life was in danger. She was persuaded she could accomplish more from the United States.
Durrani founded LEARN in 2018 when she was 20 years old, inspired by seeing children learn Hindi by watching TV. LEARN offers free online courses for Grade 1 to 12 in Pashto and Dari languages. It has developed tools, including an app, that enables students to download courses, games, books, and videos they can access offline. Lessons include website development and coding.
“Today Afghan girls need alternatives more than ever.”
CAUT is calling on members to generously support Afghan academics at imminent risk of persecution and death, through online donations to the CAUT Refugee Foundation at Canada Helps. CAUT is working with Scholars at Risk, the federal government, Education International, the Canadian Teachers’ Federation, the Canadian Labour Congress, and the International Trade Union Confederation to support at-risk scholars and facilitate opportunities for them in Canada.