“Giving up is not an option”: Hope for Afghans forced out of school

Mursal, 17, would normally be in the 12th grade. She dreams of becoming a doctor, but her education has been indefinitely postponed. © UNFPA Afghanistan
  • 13 September 2022

KABUL, Afghanistan – One year after the Taliban takeover, 17-year-old Mursal Fasihi is still in disbelief that she cannot  go back to school. Once a dedicated student, Mursal – like all girls in secondary school – has been unable to return to the classroom due to rules imposed by the country’s de facto leadership. 

“It is not right that they are deciding for us, ordering us to go with mahram [a male companion], that we should hide our faces, and stop going to school,” Mursal said, referring to the series of directives that have effectively restricted women and girls from participating  in public life.

The last time Mursal saw school was when she took her final examination for 11th grade in July 2021. In August, the Taliban swept across Afghanistan, which ended with the fall of Kabul on 15 August.

Some of her friends were able to leave Afghanistan and are now continuing their education overseas.

“I really miss my friends, my teachers and my school. My school was a great place but now I can’t go there,” she remarked.

Her dreams of becoming a doctor are now uncertain.

But her hope will not be extinguished.

Becoming a peer educator

To fill her time and still feel productive, Mursal joined the Youth Peer Educators Network (Y-PEER), a regional initiative led by and for youth, supported by UNFPA. 

Y-PEER focuses on building young people’s life skills to deal with the challenges that they face. She joined a training last July and is now one of the 25 trainers for Y-PEER in Afghanistan.

The training opened her eyes to  various issues young Afghans face on a daily basis. As an educated young woman in the city of Kabul, she had not realized how many girls, especially young girls living in poverty or in remote areas, experience harms like early marriage and adolescent pregnancy.

The unprecedented increase in poverty, resulting from the economic crisis that came with the Taliban’s return to power in Afghanistan, has brought to the fore discussions about these concerns. Out of desperation, many families have resorted to marrying off their young daughters, for example to offload responsibility for their girls’ care and protection. 

Mursal knows that early marriage often results in early pregnancy, unleashing a cascade of negative consequences for both girls and their families.

“It is sad because how can a child bring another child into this world and raise them?” Mursal pointed out. “At our age, we are just children. We should be studying, aiming for great things. It’s not time for us to get married yet.”

“When the dark cloud passes”

Although Mursal’s desire for a formal education is on hold indefinitely, she finds meaning and purpose in being a peer educator for others. 

In addition to teaching youth about the harms of early marriage and adolescent pregnancy, she is able to share her hope for a better future. 

“When the dark cloud passes, we will see a bright morning,” she told UNFPA.

“I hope that young girls will not give up. It is ok to be scared, it is ok to cry, but giving up is not an option. I hope they will continue learning in any way they can. Insha Allah, maybe someone will help us, or the schools will reopen,” she said. “Our bright morning will come.”

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