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“The Graveyard of Empires”… and Women

By: Hanan Abu Salih 

 Afghanistan has long been known as “The Graveyard of Empires,” a term coined by former CIA officer Milton Bearden in 2001. However, the present reality is even more disturbing—it has become a graveyard of women. As a former educator and passionate advocate for gender equality, who also comes from a conservative, Muslim community, I have personally witnessed the transformative power of education in enhancing the lives of women in societies. Today, I am deeply concerned about the dire situation of girls’ education in Afghanistan. With 80% of school-aged Afghan girls deprived of an education due to restrictions imposed by the Taliban, it is imperative that we prioritize and invest in girls’ education to pave the way for a brighter future. After nearly two years of denying education to girls aged 12 and above, the urgency to take action cannot be overstated. 

The lack of access to education for girls and young women in Afghanistan is a critical barrier to their empowerment and overall development. To address this issue, we must tackle the economic challenges and cultural barriers that hinder girls’ education. By increasing funding and focusing on online education, we can overcome these obstacles and pave the way for a more inclusive and prosperous Afghanistan. 

The economic challenges in Afghanistan have perpetuated the gender gap in education. Poverty-stricken families often prioritize sending boys to school, perceiving them as future breadwinners, while girls are left with limited opportunities for education. It is alarming to note that, despite receiving $1.3 billion in foreign aid from various agencies, only $49 million is dedicated to education. This stark disparity in funding allocation exacerbates the already challenging situation for girls’ education. To break this cycle, it is crucial to improve budget allocation and management for girls’ education. Additionally, by collaborating with international organizations, donor countries, and the private sector, we can secure additional funding to create equal educational opportunities for all children, regardless of gender. 

Cultural and religious norms act as significant barriers to girls’ education in Afghanistan. To overcome these challenges, we must engage with local communities and religious leaders. Empowering girls and women in decision-making processes related to education and involving them in community and religious activities can challenge and overcome these norms. Additionally, promoting education as a means of improving health, well-being, and economic opportunities can shift perceptions and attitudes, garnering greater support for girls’ education. 

In light of the Taliban’s opposition to coeducational schools, online education presents a viable solution to address their concerns, as well as ensures access to education for girls in remote areas. By investing in online learning platforms and technological resources, we can provide quality education to girls without compromising cultural and religious sensitivities. This approach eliminates concerns about mixed-gender education and male guardianship while also reaching girls who are unable to access traditional school settings. 

While there may be technical and political challenges in implementing virtual education in Afghanistan, it is essential to address them proactively. Ensuring access to computers and reliable internet connectivity in poverty-stricken and conflict-affected regions must be a priority. Additionally, while it is true that in-person schooling offers valuable socialization opportunities, we must acknowledge the urgency of the situation. Afghan girls have already been out of school for almost two years, sacrificing some social skills is the price they may have to pay, temporarily, to transition from a lack of education to any form of education. By recognizing and addressing these challenges, we can build a more inclusive and effective education system. 

Investing in girls’ education in Afghanistan is not only a moral imperative but also a strategic investment in the nation’s future. By increasing funding and focusing on online education, we can empower girls and young women, bridge the gender gap in education, and promote gender equality. Education equips individuals with the necessary skills and knowledge to participate in the economy, improve livelihoods, and contribute to the progress and stability of the country. This is our chance to bring about a transformative change in the lives of Afghan girls, establish a more equitable society, and foster sustainable development in Afghanistan. 

About the Author 

Hanan Abu Salih, a Palestinian woman and citizen of Israel, recently graduated with an Executive M.S. in Diplomacy and International Relations, specializing in Human Rights and International Law, from Seton Hall University. With over a decade of professional experience, Hanan has worked in both Israel and the United States, including a role as an Arabic instructor at the University of Kansas during her Fulbright scholarship. She is deeply passionate about education and advocating for women’s rights, aiming to create positive change and empower individuals through her work. 

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