As a staunch feminist, nothing makes my blood boil more than women being denied access to education. Women deserve equal rights to men. Period.
While that should be the end of the discussion, the reality is that women are still being denied this singular, fundamental, basic human right. And it frustrates me that more needs to be said. But it does, so I will.
Few—if any—rights are more foundational to women’s advancement than our right to an education. Education is the great equalizer. My own education is one of the greatest treasures of my life, and I struggle to think who I’d be without it. That’s why I feel so strongly about our need to fight for that right for each and every woman and girl, whether she be from Manhattan or Kabul. We simply cannot leave any one of us behind. As Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. adeptly said, “No one is free until we are all free.” My gratitude for the blood, sweat, and tears of past (and current) feminists has always inspired me to continue our legacy both as an expression of gratitude for the life I’ve enjoyed and as a promise to pay it forward. And I have zero intention of stopping now.
When the Taliban reseized power in Afghanistan, it vowed to the international community that things would be different. This was a new kind of Taliban, it said. And it repeatedly promised that girls would be allowed to continue their education and women could work outside of the home. Then, it immediately banned both, ordering women to stay home “for their own safety.” Since then, Afghan girls and women seeking an education have suffered devastating blow after blow. Schools that were supposed to reopen last March were shuttered so quickly that returning students had to be kicked out of their classrooms; many young women left in tears. And in the waning days of 2022, just as students were studying for their final exams, the Taliban barred women from attending university.
Tragic, horrific, incensing don’t even begin to describe it. This final blow is cruel, but sadly not surprising. Authoritarian regimes often curtail women’s access to education for the same reason it’s so important to our advancement. An education is the primordial source of our economic power and consequently, our political and social power as well. It’s where our careers and our independence take root. Where our confidence flourishes. To deprive a woman an education is to deprive her the freedom to choose her future, and that is precisely what regimes like the Taliban want.
Authoritarians fear women’s power, and rightfully so. Research shows
that curtailing women’s rights creates the precise conditions that let tyrannical regimes maintain their grasp. Patriarchal societies (in which men wield power over their wives and daughters) are poorer, more violent, more unstable, and strongly correlate with authoritarian regimes. Inversely, societies that treat women as equals are generally more free, democratic, safe, and wealthy. The Taliban knows that educating women is a slippery slope to having to recognize women as equals and in turn, to losing their tightly clasped grip on their power. And it terrifies them.
After being expelled from university simply because she’s a woman, one young student told NPR
, “The Taliban took our last hope from us.” The heartbreak expressed by Afghan women and girls forced out of their classrooms is gut wrenching. To have something so hard-fought, so vital, and so fulfilling as an education ripped away is devastating. Learning nurtures personal growth, cultivates confidence, and inspires hope for what the future can be. It’s hard to imagine the pain of having all of that hope and potential yanked out from under you.
I find myself struggling to wrap my head around recent setbacks to women’s rights—both abroad and at home. It’s hard not to feel a little powerless, like every step forward is followed by two shoves backward. But you know what, women throughout history and in every corner of the globe didn’t back down before, so neither can we. Once women know the immensity of our power, nothing can ever take it away.
Once heard, the school bell cannot simply be unrung. Shuttering their classrooms can’t erase what these young women and girls have already learned. The women of Afghanistan know their power, and so I hold tight to that glimmer of hope. If they are fighting
, even as the Taliban makes every attempt to lock them out, then we can too. We must.
Together, we are never powerless and can make a meaningful and tangible difference. With that in mind, below are critical organizations working to directly support women and children in Afghanistan. If you’ve been looking for a way to help, please consider donating, volunteering, or even just passing along the information to family and friends—it all matters and it all helps. To the women and girls around the world, while the fight might not be over, I couldn’t be prouder to stand beside you.
Organizations Working to Aid Women and Children in Afghanistan: