Shabana Basij-Rasikh, an Afghan educator and women’s rights champion, spoke to students and faculty at the McCulloch Center for the Arts last Wednesday afternoon. She opened her discussion pinpointing access to education as the largest global issue.
Shabana knows firsthand about unequal access to education in Afghanistan. When Shabana was six, the Taliban banned females from going to school. Because Shabana’s family valued education, she dressed as a boy everyday for five years to attend a secret school for girls in Kabul.
Shabana spent her senior year studying in Wisconsin through a United States State Department exchange program. Her studies led her to Middlebury College in Vermont. While a student at Middlebury, Shabana co-founded the nonprofit, School of Leadership Afghanistan (SOLA).
After she graduated she began considering a career that would have maximum impact in Afghanistan. She returned to Afghanistan and turned SOLA into the country’s first boarding school for girls, ages 11-19. She realized that “the number one reason girls in Afghanistan cannot and do not attend school is the lack of female teachers.”
When it first opened, SOLA had four students. Now, young Afghan women, who are multilingual, graduate from SOLA often as the first females in their field. Through SOLA, a growing generation of young females are creating a ripple effect in a country where less than ten percent of women are literate. “This is the beginning of a strong movement to change the education system in Afghanistan,” Shabana says.
In her 2012 Ted Talk “Dare to Educate Afghan Girls,” Shabana discusses how her father believed it was “a greater risk in not educating in his children” during the Taliban’s control of Afghanistan. Similarly, in her talk at St. Andrew’s, Shabana acknowledged the bravery of the SOLA girls’ families in the face of opposition.
Shabana hopes to turn the country’s minority of female college graduates into a majority. Her dream is for educating Afghan girls to be the norm. She ended her talk at St. Andrew’s by inviting audience members to consider their own educational paths. She called upon the audience to “ask yourselves: what is the purpose of my education? Why do I do what I do?”