Imagine a world where education for women isn’t only sparse or unavailable – it’s actually illegal. If you were a woman living under the rule of the Taliban in Afghanistan, that world wasn’t a hypothetical possibility. It was reality.
No education. No women-led businesses. No jobs. Women were barely permitted to leave their homes.
The Afghan Institute for Learning was created to combat oppression and inequality by educating women and providing them with practical skills.
Professor Sakena Yacoobi was born in Afghanistan. Facing an already crumbling political system and civil strife, she left in the 1970s to seek higher education opportunities in the United States. She watched from afar as her country further crumbled and nearly 6 million refugees fled Afghanistan to find safety over the Pakistan border. Yacoobi returned home to help and began by educating women in refugee camps in Pakistan.
Yacoobi founded the Afghan Institute of Learning (AIL) in 1995, just as the Taliban was coming to power in Afghanistan. Her mission: to provide education and health services to those hit the hardest – women and children.
They achieved moderate success under the most dangerous conditions – educating over 3,000 girls in a network of over 80 underground home schools. However, the years of war, civil strife and Taliban rule have taken their toll on Afghan women who have one of the highest illiteracy rates in the world.
Since the fall of the Taliban in 2001, AIL has been crucial in rebuilding Afghan society for three main reasons. AIL began as a grassroots organization, meaning they already had an extensive network in place to reach women, children and the poor. Additionally, the organization’s leadership, and the majority of their staff, was made up of Afghan women. AIL’s ability to operate within Afghan culture and society affords them a measure of trust that allows the organization to reach women in even the most conservative of villages.
AIL attacks the issue of inequality on multiple fronts and provides a host of complimentary programs and services for women and children.
Much of AIL’s activity occurs at women’s learning centers. AIL currently supports 30 women’s learning centers and has helped communities open another 300+ in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Some women just want to learn how to read. Those who were forced to abandon their education under the Taliban are looking to pick up their education where they were forced to leave off. Many others are looking for advanced skills that would allow them to obtain jobs or become entrepreneurs. At these centers, women and children can receive schooling from preschool through university classes; obtain health education or human rights training; or learn income-generating skills such as sewing or carpet weaving. Classes are also offered in English and computers, giving women skills they need for the few jobs that are available.
Fawzia is just one of many women who have received weaving training through AIL. Though there are still numerous cultural barriers to employment for women, carpet weaving is a traditional income generating occupation. Fawzia learned weaving at a AIL women’s learning center in Herat. With the help of AIL, she was able to obtain her own weaving frame. She weaves and sells carpets to help pay for her own children’s education and health care.
Teacher Training Program
One popular program at the women’s learning centers is the teacher training program. Teaching is one of the few professions that are acceptable for women. Over 13,000 teachers have been trained in AIL’s student-centered learning techniques. The use of these techniques in Afghan schools has improved the quality of education for over 400,000 students.
Zakia used the training she received from AIL to transform her own classroom. Previously, Zakia had subscribed to the traditional method of Afghan education – memorization and recitation. She found that by implementing the student-centered techniques she learned at an AIL training center in Kabul, her students were more responsive, learned faster and enjoyed school more.
Gawhar Shad University
In 2003, AIL created the Gawhar Shad University to address the lack of post-secondary education opportunities available for Afghan women. The University has three different curriculum tracks: nursing/health education, math and computer science and education.
In addition to these, AIL also offers a preschool program in Kabul, rural health education and services, advanced learning opportunities and leadership and activist training.
How You Can Help
The Taliban rule of Afghanistan ended in 2001, after 15 years. However, they have recently begun to gain momentum, making AIL’s programs even more critical.
Check out their video on YouTube. You can help AIL by making a tax-deductible contribution through their fiscal partner, Creating Hope International. You can also support individual Afghan women by purchasing one of their hand-woven rugs. They also are in need of supplies and volunteers.
Image Credit: Inkyhack