“The women of Afghanistan are empowered.”

The Feministing crew is still at the Women & Power retreat at Omega. Kicking off today’s speakers is Sakena Yacoobi, who founded the Afghan Institute of Learning (AIL) in 1995. After the Taliban closed girls’ schools in the 1990s, AIL opened underground home schools and women’s learning centers. Today AIL is still working to empower Afghan women, and Yacoobi continues her work despite constant threats to her safety.
One of the biggest consequences of her nation being at war for decades, Yacoobi says, is the loss of the educational system. If people can defend themselves through communication, they don’t need a weapon. But through years of war, the educational system was demolished. So she wanted to do more than teach people to read and write — and think critically. And so she began opening schools for Afghan refugees in Pakistan.
In a matter of one year, her classes went from 300 students to 1500. All girls. “These girls are very bright. They wanted to have a future,” she says.
Since the government has taken over many of the schools AIL founded, many people have become distrustful of the schools. So AIL began opening Women’s Learning Centers as an alternative. The centers teach some curricula that the government-run schools don’t: peace education, democracy, ethics, health, family planning, sex education. These are the topics, she says, that lead to electing better leaders, making a more peaceful country, empowering women.
Why has her organization been so successful? “We work with tradition, culture, religion.” No matter how much the technology advances, people’s traditions must be treated with respect.
“A lot of good things are happening in Afghanistan,” Yacoobi says. “But the government is not doing that much. We don’t have roads, electricity, clean water, shelter, basic rights of human beings. The Taliban, day to day, are getting more power. And our people are tired of fighting. Those people close the door of education. Women can’t even walk down the street. They have no mercy.”
On the recent election: “The men are scared to go to the polls because the Taliban announced that if you go and vote we’ll cut your finger. And they did that. But women did go. They went to those polls. Through the leadership workshop we teach them how to choose their leader, why it’s so important you get involved in politics, why it’s so important for you try to negotiate and communicate. So women are going and voting.”
Yacoobi continues, “The news is that Afghan women are empowered. They are intelligent. They are courageous.”
“You might hear there is war. People are killed. Acid poured into faces of girls. Every day there is bombing, rocket shelling, torturing. But the women of Afghanistan get up in the morning and say goodbye to their family and go to work and go to the learning center. They found out that this is the only way they can stop the problem. They must be educated. And they are learning. And they are not afraid.”

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