Sahar: Finding Innovative ways to Educate Girls in Afghanistan, Despite the Risks

By Meetra Alokozay, Executive Director, Sahar

Gawhar Khatoon High School outside view

Gawhar Khatoon High School, Mazar-e-Sharif. Photo: Sahar.

Education is pivotal in promoting gender equality, and Sahar is committed to preventing and combating gender discrimination by supporting girls’ and women’s education in Afghanistan. Education is a fundamental human right; however, it is well known that since the Taliban has taken over Afghanistan, education has once again been taken away from millions of Afghan girls. Currently, formal education is banned for girls above 6th grade in Afghanistan. As an organization expanding access to girls’ Education in Afghanistan for 20 years, we at Sahar are deeply saddened and enraged by the decision. We use strategies to redirect our rage and sadness towards strengthening our efforts of providing girls’ access to quality education.

School girls walking at Gawhar Khatoon High School

School girls at Gawhar Khatoon High School, Mazar-e-Sharif. Photo: Sahar.

Over the past 20 years, Sahar has worked to build, repair, and supply the needs of 25 girls’ schools in Balkh province of Afghanistan while also training teachers and improving the curriculum. In communities where the literacy rate for women continues to be low, Sahar has run programs that focus on literacy and vocational training.

Student in class at laptop

Coding Class, Gawhar Khatoon High School, Mazar-e-Sharif. Photo: Sahar.

To close gender gaps through education, Sahar understands the need for training and awareness around topics such as, digital literacy, early marriages, allyship with men, and women’s health. Sahar’s digital literacy program aims to pave the way for girls to access higher education and job skills through technology. Early marriage prevents many girls from graduating high school in Afghanistan, therefore, through the Prevention of Early Marriage program, Sahar works to break down that barrier. Building allyship with men and involving them in the process of change-making is essential for gender equity. Sahar’s Men as Partners in Change program focuses on achieving better health and education outcomes by allying with men and creating communities that recognize the value of both genders.

Men in classroom

Men as Partners in Change Program, Mazar-e-Sharif. Photo: Sahar.

After the Taliban’s takeover of the country, Sahar had to make the difficult choice of putting the programs on hold. We have started to resume our programs carefully and strategically by partnering with grassroot organizations in Afghanistan. Currently, Sahar is working collaboratively with these organizations and equipping them with evidence-informed curricula, project management, training, and support to help advance their efforts across the country. Sahar is also aware of the risks that are associated with any United States-based organizations working in Afghanistan (and their grassroots partners). Therefore, Sahar is trying to adapt alternative ways of implementing the programs and mitigate the risks.

People in classroom

Early Marriage Prevention Program, Mazar-e-Sharif. Photo: Sahar.

We are currently supporting the operations of two mobile schools that serve nearly 500 children who are members of a nomadic tribe who have not had access to education prior to this effort.  Founded by a remarkable young Afghan woman, these schools are teaching basic literacy skills to girls and boys of all ages. Additionally, we are currently finalizing partnerships with two other Afghan-led organizations in central and eastern Afghanistan to support girls’ schooling and provide women with vocational training. We also plan resume our previous programs by collaborating with our partners.

The ban on girls’ schools in Afghanistan should not stop organizations and individuals from supporting and promoting girls’ education. It is time for collective action, whether it is asking international community leaders to put pressure on the Taliban to reopen girls’ schools or accepting and supporting alternative ways of learning for girls.

Teacher Training Program class

Teacher Training Program, Nangarhar. Photo: Sahar.

Help Sahar support education for girls and women in Afghanistan. Visit our website and follow us on Instagram to learn more about our work and how you can get involved: and @Sahareducation on Instagram.