ABOUT THE LEADING CHANGE SERIES
Women in Afghanistan have experienced incredible progress over the last ten years, and the hard-won gains of the last decade must not be reversed. Girls have returned to school to become educated, like their brothers, and women are serving as provincial governors and members of the National Assembly. Their stories inspire us, and remind us of what is at stake for Afghan women.
As part of the Women’s Initiative Afghan Women’s Project, we have launched a blog series that spotlights the success stories of courageous Afghan women and girls.
As a young woman in Kabul in the 1970s, Hassina’s experience of life in Afghanistan was one of freedom and opportunity. Many women in Hassina’s family worked: some as teachers, others as politicians and entrepreneurs. Her mother opened Afghanistan’s first floral shop and imported the country’s first popcorn machine.
Hassina’s family immigrated to the United States from Afghanistan in 1978, just two months before the Russian invasion. The family settled in Seattle and began the process of integrating into a new country and culture. Hassina and her two brothers learned English, learned to drive and completed their education.
When Hassina learned of the plight of Afghan women under the Taliban in the 1990s – forbidden to go to school, forced to don a burqua, and restricted from moving freely around their towns and villages – she could not believe it to be true. In 1999, Hassina traveled home to Afghanistan and spent two weeks meeting with women and children, many of whom had been forced to the streets for survival and had little hope for continuing their education. Before returning to the United States, Hassina invested $3000 in five clandestine schools for 250 girls in Kabul. Despite violent attacks on both teachers and students, the schools continued to educate girls until the fall of the Taliban from power. When they reintegrated into the formal education system, the girls entered, on average, two grade levels ahead of their peers.
The events of September 11, 2001 stirred mixed emotions within Hassina. As a citizen of the United States, she grieved the devastation in the aftermath of the attacks; but, in the same moment, she saw a window of opportunity for freedom to come to the people of Afghanistan. As an Afghan, she felt hope for the reconstruction of a stronger Afghanistan, and decided to return home to participate in the rebuilding of her country.
AID AFGHANISTAN FOR EDUCATION
“Education is a foundational requirement of any successful society,” Hassina believes. “During 20 years of war [mujahedeen wars followed by the Taliban rule], we lost three generations. Very few people pay attention to the fact that we need the whole population to be educated if we want a successful democracy in Afghanistan.” Afghanistan today suffers from one of the highest illiteracy rates in the world – 72% of the population is illiterate. Among women, only 12% can read and write.
When Afghanistan reopened schools in 2002, Hassina noticed that there were no special programs for young women who had missed the opportunity to study during years of conflict and, as a result, were years behind in school. With initial funding from the Danish embassy, she launched Aid Afghanistan for Education (AAE) and opened three girls’ schools in Kabul. With a $127,000 investment, Hassina renovated three school buildings that had been destroyed, hired teachers and enrolled 1100 students. The government of Finland was the next to support her work, and five more schools were opened in the following year.
AAE programs specifically target marginalized groups of Afghans who otherwise would not have access to education. Afghan Ministry of Education (MoE) code prohibits children older than 10 years of age to begin school, and does not allow married girls or women to reenter the public education system. AAE provides these students with the opportunity to begin or continue their education in an accelerated program. Because AAE classes continue year-round and observe a longer school day, students can condense 12 years of education into eight years.
AAE now operates 13 schools in nine provinces throughout Afghanistan, and educates more than 3000 young women annually. Hassina recently expanded AAE’s work to include boys. “Donors have not paid close attention to boys in Afghanistan,” she argues, “and I think we see the result now.” Without education and an ability to make a living, boys and young men are more susceptible to recruitment to anti-government or extremist groups.
Hassina believes that AAE’s work in education is vital to the rebuilding of a stable, peaceful and prosperous Afghanistan. The effort is urgent: “We need to work to ensure all have access to education,” she says. “We don’t have time to focus on children only. Afghanistan cannot afford to wait another 30 years.”
The Year in Review: The Bush Institute's Global Impact
The George W. Bush Institute marched forward in 2016 toward its goals of developing leaders, advancing policy, and taking action to solve today's most pressing challenges. The year also saw Kenneth Hersh become president and CEO of the George W. Bush Presidential Center, as his predecessor, Margaret Spellings, departed to head the University of North Carolina System. As we look back over 2016, here are five top moments from the Bush Institute's Global Leadership Impact Center, which houses the Human Freedom Initiative, the Women's Initiative, and our global health initiative through our affiliate Pink Ribbon Red Ribbon. Bush Institute Releases We Are Afghan Women: Voices of Hope Book The book launched with an event at the Bush Center featuring a poignant conversation between Mrs. Bush and Razia Jan, who is featured in the book, moderated by Greta Van Susteren. Mrs. Bush promoted the book with a media tour throughout March, including interviews with the TODAY show and Glamour&
“Voice of Hope” Dr. Sakeena Yacoobi Awarded 2017 Sunhak Peace Prize
Dr. Sakeena Yacoobi, founder and executive director of the Afghan Institute of Learning (AIL) and one of 29 inspiring individuals featured in the Bush Institute’s book, We are Afghan Women: Voices of Hope, has been selected for the 2017 Sunhak Peace Prize for her more than 20 years of work as an educator and humanitarian. The Sunhak Peace Prize was established to honor individuals who make significant contributions to address worldwide suffering, conflict, poverty, and threats to the environment by promoting a comprehensive, future-oriented vision of peace. In Afghanistan, Dr. Yacoobi has done just that. After the Taliban closed girls’ schools in the 1990s, Dr. Yacoobi’s AIL supported 80 underground home schools for 3,000 girls. Today, the organization rebuilds education and health systems in Afghanistan as well as provides emergency and legal aid. Seventy percent of AIL’s beneficiaries are women, and the organization is run mainly by female leadership. In ad
From Dallas to Kabul, Girls Can Code
The Bush Institute’s Women’s Initiative team recently sat down with Dialexa, a Dallas-based technology company that offers holistic product development services, to learn more about our shared interest in advancing opportunities for women and girls in Afghanistan. Sixty-three percent of the population of Afghanistan is under the age of 25 and like most millennials, despite lacking technology infrastructure, they remain hungry for innovation and opportunity. Nourishing this appetite in tandem with gender empowerment, Dallas-based companies Dialexa and Vinli are helping to foster the talent and tenacity of high school girls interested in computer programming through a partnership with the Womanity Foundation. Launched by Womanity in April 2016, “Girls Can Code” is a vocational program in two of the largest girls’ public high schools in Kabul, Afghanistan with the approval of the Ministry of Education. The intent of the program is to increase employment ra
Mrs. Bush Discusses 15th Anniversary of Radio Address on Afghan Women
Today marks 15 years since Mrs. Laura Bush delivered her historic President’s weekly radio address – a first for a First Lady – to direct international attention to the Taliban’s oppression of women. As First Lady, she made three trips to Afghanistan, and for more than a decade, she has led efforts through the U.S.-Afghan Women’s Council to protect the hard-earned rights of women in that country. She wrote the forward for the Bush Institute’s latest book, We Are Afghan Women: Voices of Hope, published earlier this year. The Bush Institute recently spoke with Mrs. Bush about the 15th anniversary of her momentous radio address, the gains made by Afghan women, the challenges that remain, and her hope for the future of Afghanistan. You have been a resolute advocate for Afghan women, becoming the first First Lady to deliver the Presidential Radio Address on November 17, 2001. Why was it important to you to deliver that message? After September