‘Underground’ class of journalism in English for teenage girls in Afghanistan

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The idea to launch a project for girls in Afghanistan came when Harbingers’ Magazine international affairs editor Sofiya Suleimenova interviewed human rights activist Pashtana Dorani, the founder of LEARN organisation, which runs underground schools for girls.

Sofiya reported: Since the fall of the Taliban in 2002, the government, international organisations, and various NGOs have seen the importance and need for action in the educational field. As seen by the 2023 UNESCO report, even though number of female enrolment at all educational levels were increasing (almost 20 times for higher education), the combined literacy rate for all female groups by 2021 was only 30%.”

But this progress collapsed in the summer of 2021, when US troops were sent back home following ‘peace deals’ that were signed in February 2020 by the Trump administration as an agreement that it would withdraw its forces as long as the Taliban promised to negotiate with the Afghan government and would prevent terrorist groups from taking control. Following these discussions and hopes of cooperation, Afghanistan once again became subject to Taliban rule.

Under the ‘new’ leadership, girls are unable to attend schools and gain qualifications. Even though assured by the Taliban that women’s rights would be respected, these promises did not take long to be broken. Since May 2021, a decree has been passed that women should cover their faces in public and should stay at home unless there is an emergency. In September 2021, the Minister of Women’s Affairs was replaced by the morality police, which is an Islamic religious police founded to ensure that religious laws are being followed and public morality is kept.

In May, the OXSFJ joined LEARN’s efforts to deliver underground education for girls in Afghanistan.

A group of five Afghan girls aged 14-18 began their weekly classes in journalism in English. They will be meeting weekly with OXSFJ’s instructors Sarah Hussain and Tatev Hovhannisyan.

The project is a trial aimed at researching and developing a curriculum answering the needs of underserved communities around the world and allowing them to safely contribute to Harbingers’ Magazine.

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‘Girls go missing, schools are closed down, teachers persecuted’

“All my work consumes me, I work more than 17 hours a day, to ensure the schools stay open”, said Pashtana.

Currently, LEARN has three schools that are operating and 180 students that are attendees. Due to bans imposed by the government, numbers have been going down.

Pashtana commented: “You’re sending your daughter to school in a country where school is illegal. There’s always going to be a threat, there’s always going to be a problem. Girls do go missing. Schools are closed down, teachers are persecuted, but it’s something in general, I cannot claim that it’s only happening with us. It’s happening generally. All the teachers are under scrutiny. And all the teachers are under pressure.”

Read Sofiya Suleimenova’s interview with Pashtana Dorani in Harbingers’ Magazine

[Picture on the right and above: Pashtana Dorani | Twitter]
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Contact & Support

If you’d like to learn more about this project, help us expand our scholarship schemes, or just inquire about Harbingers’ Magazine and the Oxford School for the Future of Journalism, please contact us at office@oxsfj.com.

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