“We demand our rights!”

“Without us girls, this country will never be able to recover. Men have ruled for generations, and we can see how that went. Now we demand our rights!” says Lima, 14.

Many of the children at Lima’s school come from families that have been displaced as a result of the conflict in Afghanistan. To make sure there was enough room for all the students, the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) built an extension to the school building. We also provided the school with learning materials.

Afghan girls doing school exercises in a classroom.

NRC works to ensure that just as many girls receive an education as boys. In 2019, we helped more than 60,000 children and young people to receive an education in Afghanistan. This has also led to more Afghan girls becoming aware of their right to education. Lima is one of these girls.

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“We want to be seen and heard”

Today, the UN ranks Afghanistan as one of the world’s least equal countries, and fewer than two out of ten women can read and write.

“We demand equal rights,” says Lima. “This country cannot continue to oppress and make invisible half of the population – us girls and women.” The passionate 14-year-old is the daughter of one of the teachers at the school.

We demand equal rights. This country cannot continue to oppress and make invisible half of the population – us girls and women.
LIMA, 14

Lima believes that it is particularly important to focus on education for all in a country like Afghanistan that has been at war for more than 30 years.

“The country needs more people with education and knowledge – including girls,” she says. “Remember that girls and women take great responsibility for the family, but need more knowledge and education to use all their abilities and be able to take advantage of more opportunities.”

Read caption Behista is in the sixth grade. Her family was forced to flee as a result of the conflict in the country. Behista is among the best students in her class, according to her teacher. Photo: Enayatullah Azad/NRC

Failing the girls

Girls in areas affected by conflict are almost two and a half times more likely to be out of school than boys, according to UN figures. And by the time they reach secondary school age, 90 per cent of girls in conflict-affected countries are out of school.

Of the 3.7 million children not attending school in Afghanistan, 60 per cent are girls. In some provinces, as many as 85 per cent of girls are not in school.

Afghan women and girls who have been forced to flee their homes face significant constraints when it comes to accessing education, health and employment opportunities, according to a 2015 report by NRC. Seven in ten say they have never attended school.

Read more: “We’re failing the girls”

Read caption NRC’s van on its way through the streets in northern Afghanistan. Photo: Enayatullah Azad/NRC

“Invest in us”

Lima sees the value of increased support for education, especially for girls.

“It is important for NRC to invest in girls,” she says. “Before we had the new school building, there was a great shortage of space and we didn’t have enough equipment. Now, our school days are much better.”

“But perhaps most important is to know that there are people who have faith in us girls, who support us and encourage us. It gives us strength and hope for the future.”

She also highlights an important factor in the conflict and challenges facing the war-torn country.

“We Afghans can’t stand together as one people. Many say they are Uzbeks, Tajiks, Hazaras or Pashtun first – and Afghans second. What we need to do is erase these ethnic and linguistic divides. We have more in common than that which divides us,” she concludes.

(This interview was conducted in December last year, before the pandemic closed schools in Afghanistan.)