To be a girl in Afghanistan.
63% of the teenage girls in my country can’t do what you’re doing right now.
They can’t do something that I’m sure you take for granted. Something you’ve been able to do for as long as you can remember. Something that, statistically speaking, I’m lucky I was able to do at their age.
63% of the teenage girls in Afghanistan can’t read.
That’s a statistic from a recent Human Rights Watch report. 63%. Think about that for a moment.
Think about being a girl in a place where the illiteracy rate for adolescent girls is 63% but the illiteracy rate for adolescent boys is 34%. Think about being a girl in a country where 66% of the girls between the ages of 12 and 15 aren’t in school, but that percentage is 40% for boys the same age.
Now think about being a girl who defies the numbers. Think about what it would be like to attend a school with no buildings sturdier than tents. Think about having no toilet to use and no safe water to drink while you’re there. Think about walking to your classes every day and passing by men who might grope you, or shout at you, or hit you.
Think about walking past those men and not knowing if one of them will throw acid in your face because you’re a girl in Afghanistan who wants an education.
I’m often asked what motivates me and my work – what drove me to create SOLA. My answer has many parts.
The facts motivate me. When UNICEF reports that nearly 3 million girls are out of school in my country, when the World Bank says that the world is losing $160 trillion in wealth due to gender inequality, it’s impossible for me to be silent. An educated girl marries later, has fewer and healthier children, and invests as much as 90% of her income back into her family. An educated girl will never let her children grow up without an education. When we educate a girl, we change the world. I know this to be true.
My childhood motivates me. I know first-hand what it is like to be denied an education based solely on gender. This was something my parents would not tolerate – and neither will I.
But more than anything, our students motivate me. 70 girls from across Afghanistan: some from major cities and some from tiny villages; some from my country’s majority ethnic groups and some from minorities; some who speak Dari, some who speak Pashto, some who speak five or six or seven languages fluently – and all of them brave. All of them willing to take the risk to attend school. All of them together at SOLA, learning from each other, inspiring each other, living together and growing together in a safe and secure space where they come to realize that their potential is limitless.
They are the girls who defy the numbers. They are the girls who will define the future. They are my greatest motivation. They are my heroes.
This is our inaugural blog post on our redesigned and reimagined website, and I hope you’ll have a few minutes to spend with us: you can go much more in depth on the state of girls’ education in Afghanistan, or read stories from SOLA’s campus, or learn more about our plans for the future of our school.
I also hope you’ll come back and visit the blog often: I’m looking forward to using this space to share ideas with all of you.
I am very happy to have you with us.