It is accepted around the world that children and young people have a right to education. But for girls in Afghanistan, this is not the case.
In 2021, the Taliban seized power after launching a military offensive which lasted three and a half months. One of the first measures they imposed was a ban on girls over the age of 12 returning to school. A year later, they extended this ban to include universities, leaving millions of Afghan girls without any access to higher education at all.
Accessing education was already a struggle prior to the Taliban’s return to power due to the scarcity and inadequacy of learning facilities for girls. It is estimated that 30% of girls in the country have never even entered primary school. Now, in light of the current ban, receiving education beyond this will be close to impossible.
The Begum Academy has been launched in an attempt to combat this.
The Begum Academy is an online platform aimed at female students from seventh to twelfth grade, which offers the entire Afghan curriculum free of charge by subject based on the official school books from the Ministry of Education. The idea behind the initiative is that girls will be able to teach themselves the Afghan school curriculum from their own homes in order to improve their future prospects even if they aren’t allowed to physically attend school.
A spokesperson for the organisation, who preferred not to be named, spoke to Index about the importance of this movement for a country with the lowest ranking for women’s inclusion, justice and security in the world.
“If you take into account Covid and the Taliban in power at the moment, girls have been out of school for basically five years,” he explained.
“The idea is to give them hope. To be a girl in Afghanistan today is hell. There’s absolutely no future. The idea for us is to say okay, you’re forbidden to go to school, you’re not forbidden to learn.”
The platform contains more than 8,000 videos from a team of teachers and producers covering the entire school curriculum in Dari and Pashto, chapter by chapter, which took many months to put together.
“Recording videos, editing them, working the content. It’s an enormous task,” admitted the Begum Academy correspondent. “Everybody told us that it was crazy, that it was impossible. We decided to go for it.”
The group is also endeavouring to break down other barriers faced by those in Afghanistan who want to learn, such as the lack of internet access in a number of homes across the country. They note that this is an issue they are actively “working on” to try and ensure that as many girls as possible are able to access the resources provided.
This is a sizeable task. Since the Taliban seized power in Afghanistan in 2021, internet connection in the state has been limited. Gallup’s 2022 World Poll found that just 15% of the Afghan population said they have access to the internet. This is potentially due to costs of Wi-Fi or electronics considering more than 90% of the country’s population is affected by poverty.
There is also a significant gender disparity when it comes to internet access, with only 6% of women having access compared to 25% of men. Those living in cities were also more likely to use the internet than those in rural areas.
Thankfully, the Taliban do not seem to have any plans to ban the internet completely. They even use the internet, which they previously rallied against due to their suspicions of what they deemed to be Western technology, to communicate with the world on social media.
According to a 2023 report by the Atlantic Council, the approximate $77 million in taxes collected by the Afghan government from internet and mobile phone operators since taking over is a crucial source of income. The Taliban have even announced plans to upgrade to 4G networks – a hopeful sign on the internet access front.
However, the Taliban have also been accused of limiting internet access for their own gain, allegedly suspending connectivity in Kabul and other areas on a regular basis in order to curb opposition, as well as blocking millions of websites for “immoral” content. There is therefore a fear that even if internet access is available, the militant group can restrict the content available on it.
Nonprofit group Access Now, who advocate for digital rights, warns that even those who can access Google in Afghanistan are restricted by the fear of surveillance due to the ability of the Taliban to monitor browser history. Debilitating internet speeds and frequent power cuts may also hinder proceedings.
Despite concerns about the accessibility of the platform in the long-term, the overall feeling regarding the Begum Academy’s launch is positive today.
“We still have a lot of things to do, but I think this project can genuinely help,” the platform’s spokesperson said. “Once the word has spread, and it’s started already on social media, we can expect something quite big.”
You can find the Begum Academy here: https://begum-academy.org/fa/
You can also access online materials on their YouTube channels: