Great strides have been taken in empowering Afghan women since the ousting of the Taliban just over a decade ago, most notably in the form of education. The statistics tell an encouraging story, with the number of girls in school increasing from a mere 5,000 in 2001 to 2.7 million last year. A standout figure in this success story is Sakena Yacoobi, the founder of the Afghan Institute of Women, an organization that has taught over a quarter of a million students and trained almost 20,000 teachers since 1996.
However, in a 2011 survey conducted by the Asia Foundation, a quarter of respondents highlighted illiteracy and the lack of education as the biggest problem facing women in Afghanistan – clearly there remains much to be done. And with US troops leaving, the question of what comes next looms large. Despite a statement by Afghanistan’s Minister of Education that the Taliban would no longer oppose girls’ education, prior treatment of women under Taliban rule leads Yacoobi to distrust this claim. In a Council on Foreign Relations article from earlier this year she said, “I’m scared for the [future of] my programs.”
What lies ahead for the education of women and girls in Afghanistan? Will Yacoobi’s work continue to flourish or will her teaching be driven back underground? I believe that, whatever happens, she will not give up, and I look forward to hearing her share her experience at the Council next week. I’m sure it will be a truly inspirational conversation.