Defying the Taliban’s Ban on Girls’ Education: The Underground Schools Bringing Hope to Afghanistan

By: Arezo Rahimi

In the wake of the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan in August 2021, the fate of the country’s young women has become increasingly uncertain and bleak. The Taliban’s decision to suspend secondary and high school education for girls in March 2022 has further exacerbated the dire situation, effectively erasing women from public life. The condition worsened in November when the Taliban extended their oppressive policies to forbid women from attending university or working with national and international organizations.

Over the last two years, the Taliban has issued a series of decrees that have significantly impacted women’s rights and freedom. These decrees have gradually imposed more and more restrictions on women, effectively excluding them from participating in various kinds of work and activities beyond their doorstep. The Taliban’s “apartheid” of women has resulted in severe human rights violations, creating an unsafe environment that has a profound psychological impact on women. As a result, there has been a sharp increase in suicides among women, particularly young and educated women, driven by various factors, including domestic violence, depression, and direct violence from the Taliban.

However, amid this grim reality, there is a glimmer of hope for the young girls of Afghanistan in the form of Daricha. This underground network of schools has emerged as a beacon of hope, providing girls across Afghanistan with access to education and the opportunity to build a brighter future for themselves.

A Ray of Hope for Girls in Afghanistan

Amidst the mounting challenges posed by the Taliban’s growing restrictions on women, Hazrat Wahriz took a pioneering step in 2021 by bringing together a group of female teachers to collaboratively explore solutions to provide young girls with access to education. Together, they founded Daricha, an initiative that sought to empower young girls in Afghanistan. The name “Daricha,” which means “window” in Persian, was chosen to signify the opening of new opportunities for these girls.

With the support of Hazrat Wahriz and team members, the initiative has blossomed and now boasts an impressive 24 underground schools spread across 12 provinces. Despite the oppressive policies of the Taliban, Daricha has become a symbol of resistance, offering over 2,500 girls a chance to receive an education and over 97 teachers a platform to inspire and uplift their students.

More Than Just Reading and Writing

Daricha is a visionary educational initiative that seeks to provide students with a holistic and all-encompassing learning experience. A team of highly qualified and passionate educators has revised the previous Ministry of Education curriculum to ensure that it not only imparts knowledge but also encourages critical thinking and empowers students to take charge of their futures. Despite operating under the challenging restrictions imposed by the Taliban, the school continues to offer a wide range of subjects, including arts, chemistry, and mathematics, to equip students with the skills and knowledge necessary to succeed in today’s world.

Atia Alawi, a young and creative teacher, has taken the initiative to teach painting at Daricha’s online school. In a country where the arts are banned, and artists are persecuted, Daricha provides a crucial platform for self-expression. Atia conducts two sessions, each catering to around 25 aspiring female artists, offering them a chance to learn painting skills at no cost. When asked about her motivation, Atia said, “I believe Daricha will create a new world for children and teenagers in Afghanistan.”

To overcome security challenges, Daricha places great importance on community engagement. Through a grassroots approach, the initiative strives to gain the support of the people by collaborating with influential figures and respected elders in the villages. This approach facilitates open dialogues and fosters strong partnerships, ultimately reinforcing security measures and creating an environment conducive to learning and growth.

Challenges: A Long Road Ahead

However, working in a country where the Taliban’s harsh laws and strict decrees govern everyday life, Daricha operates under unprecedented challenges. In this environment, even the simple act of a woman teaching can be a matter of life and death, making it a daunting task for the organization to offer educational opportunities. The impact of a two-year study interruption has been profound, leaving many students feeling hopeless and uncertain about continuing their education. Despite these obstacles, Daricha remains committed to its mission, offering face-to-face and online educational programs to those seeking knowledge in the face of adversity.

Another hurdle the Daricha initiative had to overcome was financial constraints, which persisted until February 2023. During this period, Daricha depended solely on personal funds from its founder, family, and friends to keep the initiative running. However, the team remains optimistic about securing significant support shortly, although the details are still undisclosed due to security considerations. Despite these challenges, Daricha continues to persevere and make a meaningful impact on those it serves.

The Impact: Changing Lives and Society

Daricha’s work will significantly impact the lives of many young girls in Afghanistan. The initiative’s efforts have provided educational opportunities and inspired hope for the future of education in Afghanistan. Despite the unstable political climate, the Daricha team says it will remain committed to expanding its reach to more people. The increasing number of requests to establish more schools shows the urgent need for quality education in the community.

As the world denounces the Taliban’s actions, it is increasingly vital to support initiatives like Daricha. As Hazrat Wahriz puts it, “Despite the Taliban’s suffocation, we persist in working hard and looking forward to a better future.” By focusing on grassroots efforts and community engagement, Daricha is helping to create a brighter future for girls and strengthening the social fabric of Afghanistan.