Melissa Harris-Perry: Welcome to The Takeaway. I'm Melissa Harris-Perry, and as always, it's good to have you with us.
Melissa Harris-Perry: These are the voices of women protesting the education ban on women outside of Kabul University in December, chanting either everyone or no one. It's been within three weeks since the Taliban government in Afghanistan announced that women were banned from attending colleges and universities. It's yet another gut-wrenching but not unexpected reversal of the regime's initial promises to respect women's rights. University entrance exams were only a few months ago and thousands of women had enrolled. The subjects they could take were already limited.
Fields like engineering and economics were fully blocked and journalism was severely restricted. Classes gender-segregated and hijab mandatory, but still, women were determined to continue their education even if it could no longer be the same as it had been during the 18 years between Taliban rule. The college ban effectively means that the highest level of education most Afghan girls will now be able to receive is sixth grade. One woman told Radio Free Europe--
Speaker 2: [foreign language].
Melissa Harris-Perry: The Taliban's only enemies are educated women because an educated woman will not bring up a child who will join the Taliban. Let's talk now with Shabana Basij-Rasikh, the co-founder and president of the School of Leadership, Afghanistan, a girls' boarding school. Welcome to The Takeaway again. It's so good to have you with us.
Shabana Basij-Rasikh: Thank you for having me, Melissa.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Now, Shabana, I understand that the school moved from Afghanistan to Rwanda in August of 2001 after the Taliban rose to power. How are you all doing now?
Shabana Basij-Rasikh: We moved there in August of 2021. I have to preface this by saying all things considered, our students are doing remarkably well. They're focused on their education. They are very much aware that at the moment they're continuing to be in a classroom studying when so many girls in their own families, older sisters or younger sisters, cousins, neighbors, daughters, their best friends are not in school, and so they are also aware of that. They feel guilty, they feel incredibly grateful and privileged at the same time.
Melissa Harris-Perry: The last time we spoke was in March of 2022. Since that time the Taliban has been enforcing, in fact, a new wave of restrictions, not only on education but on women's presence in the public sphere altogether, parks, gyms, pools, no longer allowed to work at NGOs and humanitarian groups. What does all of this mean? In certain ways, it feels obvious, but help us to understand what this means for the lives of women in Afghanistan.
Shabana Basij-Rasikh: Melissa, I grew up under that first Taliban regime. I'm not there today, but I never imagined in my wildest dreams that in my early 30s I would be talking about that really dark period in Afghanistan's history in the present tense. It is something I haven't gotten used to and [unintelligible 00:04:12] more than 16 months into the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan.
Just like the Afghan woman we just heard from, it does feel like the Taliban are directly attacking the girls and women of Afghanistan because they know, they absolutely know that education is going to put an end to their movement, that educated women will never raise children, sons or daughters, who'll believe in the Taliban's interpretation of Islam or their ideology. The situation is really difficult for women and girls in Afghanistan. Every possible freedom is taken away from a woman.
Some women I speak with when in conversation, they tell me that I wouldn't be surprised if one day they take away oxygen from us, make it difficult for us to breathe. Every step we take, there is a new ban placed on women. At the same time, I speak with girls and women whose determination is beyond inspiring. Just like there were Afghan women back in the first Taliban regime who displayed incredible bravery in educating girls, keeping opportunities and hopes alive for so many of us, that same level of determination continues.
Girls tell me that today they live under the Taliban flag, but even if they have to live under the Taliban's knife directly to their truth, they're not going to stop dreaming, they're not going to give up on their education. I talked to university students and college-educated women who I have opened informal networks of schooling for girls in their immediate neighborhoods. Yesterday, I was speaking with an Afghan woman whose location I won't disclose for safety reasons, she was describing to me how she and her two sisters decided to educate the girls in their immediate neighborhood.
They divided the school subjects between the three of them, the mathematics and humanities and sciences, and decided to educate the girls in their neighborhood. She told me, and this is exactly directly her words, she said, "I told the girls in our neighborhood that we are ready to transfer what's inside our heads to you." She was referencing how she had, prior to that, no experience teaching. She was working at an NGO, and she's no longer able to do that, but she's ready to educate and continue to keep that hope alive for girls.
The circumstances and the situation is dark, it's horrifying, it's unimaginable. It shouldn't be unimaginable. It's something you read about in history books. How is it okay, how is it permissible that in 2023 we live in a world where there is a country where girls' access to education is illegal, where girls' and where women's access to work is not allowed, it's banned? That should not be okay anywhere. That should not be okay with anyone in the world.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Okay, quick break, then right back with more on Afghanistan's education ban on girls and women right after this.
Melissa Harris-Perry: I can hear the devastation and the loss in your voice, and as you make this point that this should be something in our past and that this is genuinely something that was in your past and now suddenly unbelievably in your present, I do wonder those 18 years in between Taliban rule, that's an entire generation, it's really parts of multiple generations. As I hear you talking about the determination to teach, the determination not to lose the opportunity, I cannot help but to think about the ongoing protests in Iran ignited because of gender-based violence and death of Mahsa Amini.
I'm wondering about what resistance looks like in the context of Afghan women. You're giving us some of it. Also, you may not be in the streets, but tell us where that resistance is happening for that generation, those generations who had an opportunity to learn.
Shabana Basij-Rasikh: The resistance that women in Afghanistan or in a place like Iran display, it's an ongoing one. Sometimes it manifests itself in far more public and dramatic [unintelligible 00:10:31], but it has never died down. It never disappears. It's ongoing. I'll give you examples. I talked about the historic bravery of Afghan women and there is a reason. Even post-Taliban in the past 18 years, that never stopped because things weren't great for women across the country.
I'll give you one example. I have had many students at SOLA whose education there was supported by their mothers, often single mothers who were widows, lost their husbands, and they themselves were not educated but felt the incredible pain and hardship of living as illiterate women who were single mothers, and their determination to change that faith for their daughters to make sure that their daughters were educated was just incredible.
I have had many of my students tell me, "My mother does not allow me to do any house chores because she wants to make sure that I dedicate any time that I have, any additional time that I have to my homework to make sure that I learn so that I have a brighter future, that I have a better future." To me that is resistance. That's a form of resistance that has existed. That's a silent form of fighting the injustice that for so many years women have been suffering from. It's in moments when women display enough is enough that catches the attention of people outside of our countries, but that resistance is always there.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Are there ways that the world should and can be helping?
Shabana Basij-Rasikh: Absolutely. I don't think any one of us, and I literally mean any one of us, can afford to look away from the situation in Afghanistan. The problems, the concerns that the political situation in Afghanistan posed the threats to the national security of United States didn't disappear overnight. We need to worry. We need to be involved, not just for the sake of African girls and women but for the sake of all of us.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Shabana Basij-Rasikh is co-founder and president of the School of Leadership, Afghanistan. I thank you again for your work, and I hope that you'll come back and continue to let us know both how you and your girls are doing.
Shabana Basij-Rasikh: Thank you, Melissa. Thank you for having me.
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