Women’s Education in Afghanistan

Women’s Education in Afghanistan

How Afghanistan women feel about the Taliban’s Education Ban

The Taliban are an ultraconservative political and religious faction that emerged in Afghanistan in the mid-1990s following the withdrawal of Soviet troops and the collapse of Afghanistan’s communist regime. During their disaster rule from 1996-2001, they implemented many oppressive rulings such as banning most women and young girls from work or education. Unfortunately, parts of history are repeated once more. 


On Aug 6th, 2021, the first provincial capital fell to the Taliban.

On Aug 15th, 2021, the Taliban took control of the whole country of Afghanistan

On Aug 24th, 2021, reports surfaced that the Taliban had ordered most women to stay at home because their security forces weren’t ‘equipped to deal with women’.

On Sept 17th, 2021, the Taliban Education Ministry banned girls and female teachers from returning to secondary school but let education reopen for boys and male teachers.

On Mar 23rd, 2022, the Taliban announced that schools would likely reopen for girls on this day. So, eager female students returned to schools as promised but instead of textbooks and lectures, they were met with guns at the school gates. 

On Mar 23rd, 2021, the Taliban have now banned girls from attending school beyond the sixth grade.

On May 7th, 2022, Taliban officials announced that women and girls would be expected to stay home, and if they were to venture out of the home they were expected to wear the burqa which would leave women completely unseen.

On Jul 16th, 2022, Most women remain banned from going to work. Only a few women are allowed to work in healthcare or education and only in a gender-segregated environment.

This is the only country in the world where women’s education has been forcibly prohibited. 


First Cry. “So much pain & grief for the women of my country, my heart is exploding,” tweeted Shaharzad Akbar, the former head of a prominent Afghan human rights group, who now lives in exile.

Second Cry. Yalda Hakim, an Afghani Correspondent for BBC World News, spoke to Human Rights Watch. “I am very much aware of the fact that had my parents not left Afghanistan, I too, like millions of Afghan girls and women in the country could have been denied the right to an education.”

Third Cry. “Why do you think education is so important?”

Sahar Fetrat, an award-winning documentary filmmaker and researcher with the HRW, responded, “Education is a significant and basic right. In 2022, we shouldn’t be talking about why education matters. However, here we are. For a nation with the world’s highest illiteracy rate, education will always be a dream and a thirst.


As of Jul 15th. 2022, it has been 300 days since girls’ schools closed. Sharifa, a ninth-grade student interviewed by DW documentary, was top of her class from third through ninth grade. “When I see my school books, notes, and meet my classmates, we all remember the good days. But when I see that we are not allowed to enter school, it breaks my heart. With this situation, we have lost hope and our future is dark and very painful.”

Sharifa still holds out hope that education for girls can continue. “After every sundown, there is a hope for a new tomorrow, and that means that we shouldn’t lose hope,” she says inspiringly. 

When the Taliban took control in August, there were hopes that the Taliban had changed for the better. They suggested that women could go back to work or girls could return to education. But the August 2021 decision prohibited girls from returning to school and drew parallels to eerily familiar tactics the Taliban utilized in the 1990s. Some claim it is proof that they haven’t changed at all and are luring others into a false sense of security.

One female student (whose name must be hidden) was interviewed by the Guardian and said, “I don’t believe the Taliban (in regards to their assurances)…I had a plan to accelerate my studies and take more classes. I went to the gym after university. I had a plan to launch a small business for myself in Kabul, but everything vanished in a matter of hours. Words cannot describe my current depression.”

Thousands of girls are fearful for the future of their education. Even if girls’ education reopened immediately, their studies, preparation for exams, graduation plans, and university applications have already suffered a severe setback. 

Roya, 18, who talked in an interview in a Human Rights Watch article was preparing for university admission exams. “I’ve always dreamed of being a lawyer and had been preparing to get into law school,” she says, “But now with the Taliban taking over I don’t think I have a future.”

According to an analysis by the Education Cluster, Save the Children, and the UN Children’s Fund, about 850,000 out of 1.1 million secondary school girls are not attending classes. 


In light of the education ban, secret schools have popped up over Afghanistan to make up for the lack of educational opportunities. An NPR article focuses on ten teenage girls attending a makeshift school in secret. Girls here learn English as well as other subjects they would learn in grade school. Nazanin, one of the teachers, teaches grades seven and eight as well as art. Her family helped transform a spare room in their house into a classroom. Her grandmother donated a rug and a friend handed over textbooks. 

Nazanin told NPR, “When the Taliban said girls can’t go to secondary school anymore, I thought to myself, ‘what can I do?… How can I raise the morale of the girls around me?”


Teachers who have either been prohibited from returning from work or haven’t been paid in months or weeks, volunteer to teach girls at these schools, often risking their own lives in the process. 

One teacher, 34-year-old Zainab, runs a tutoring centre in a basement in Kabul. She teaches courses preparing girls for college admissions but it’s unseen whether new female students will be allowed to attend college. 

One student at the centre, Sahar, is meant to be in grade 11. Sahar has said, “I’ve always wanted to be a doctor and until the Taliban took over, I was getting top marks. Now I’ve got no chance.” Sahar said that she and her mother cry sometimes because their future is so dark. 

There are exceptions to the ban on girls’ education. In a handful of provinces, where community leaders, typically men, support allowing girls to go to school. According to a previous analysis mentioned in this article (Save the Children, UNICEF, and Education Cluster), eight provinces continued providing secondary education to girls but the results are mixed. Some districts in those eight provinces allow girls’ education while some have facilities that provide gender-segregated studies. 


Heather Barr, a Human Rights Watch employee who tracks violations against Afghani women, says, “The fact that people have found all of these different ways to try to work around the Taliban ban is an indication of how desperately people want education for themselves, for their daughters, for the…girls in their families.”

People who have not been exposed to Islam will see headlines outlining the Taliban’s brutal oppression and believe that these are true Islamic values when that couldn’t be further from the truth. Islamophobia towards Muslims could increase.

While the Taliban may justify their brutal principles on Islamic beliefs, Muslim scholars and activists say gender-based denial of education has no religious justification. Education and literacy are highly valued in Islam.

“The Taliban’s recent ban on secondary education for girls is unacceptable and is clearly contrary to Islamic teachings. There is no mention in the Quran or prophetic sayings that justifies such action by the Taliban,” Harron Imtiaz, a spokesman for the Islamic Society of North America, told VOA news.

Sheikh Faqirullah Faiq, a leading Islamic Scholar in Afghanistan who was interviewed by Voa News, said, “There is not a single problem with females’ education.”


The real culprit for this cruel and oppressive misogyny might be Afghanistan’s patriarchal tribal traditions. “Unfortunately, misogynistic customs and practices – including in Muslim-majority countries like Afghanistan – have continued to propel the domination of men over girls and women, with the Taliban’s un-Islamic prohibition on girls’ education being one manifestation,” said Zainab Chaudry, a director for the Maryland office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

Although the Taliban claim they are doing what’s best for women through work and education bans, many Taliban fighters have a gross history of sexual assault which is completely against Islamic principles. Before the Taliban took over, reports surfaced that they had ordered local religious leaders to send them a list of girls over 15 years of age and widows under 45 years that could be married to the Taliban fighters, regardless of consent.

Many young women or girls are also forcibly married to the Taliban. Fariba, an ex-wife of a Taliban fighter, is one example. She was married off when she was 14 years old to a Taliban fighter and when she had two daughters and the father sold off both his offspring. The husband was twenty years older and Fariba suffered over 26 years of abuse from her previous husband and his in-laws.

According to an interview done with News 18, Fariba said to interviewers, “No matter how much they talk about change (of the Taliban) there is not an iota of truth in it. They are trying to fool the world…”

While the Taliban recently announced a decree that women must consent to marriage, this is only a small deed in comparison to all the other restrictions they have imposed on women. The decree was not a law and therefore cannot be thoroughly enforced. Furthermore, because women cannot work, families in desperation will be looking for women to provide dowry money through marriage, even non-consensual ones.


The untold stories and the pain of Afghanistan women should be heard and seen worldwide. When the Taliban overran Kabul, the jobless rate was at 30% and more than half of the Afghanistan population lived in poverty according to AP News. Now, with most women unable to access work or education, the literacy rates, and poverty rates will only rise. 

It is incredibly difficult as ordinary citizens to provide help to others in foreign countries. But the best we can do is to remember what events are transpiring in the world and to raise awareness about these issues. At the very least, we can start the conversation.

Written by: Zara Jamshed

Author’s Note: Here are some donation links.

Donate to Islamic Relief USA (Direct option to help Afghanistan)

Donate to Save the Children (Direct option to help Afghanistan)

Donate to World Food Program

Donate to UNICEF USA

Magic at the Brazilian Carnival

Magic at the Brazilian Carnival

In this crowd of what felt to be hundreds, for once, Saika felt glad to be lost in the wildly moving bodies of the crowd as they partied to loud drums and thrilling samba music. Compared to a smaller party where you were noticed more – judged more – Sanjana found peace in the feeling of being lost in exhilaration without anyone to watch. People were handing out cold beer, which Sanjana politely rejected, and a leaflet she had been given earlier by a polite woman was crumpled in her pocket. The leaflets were handed out so people could follow the Portuguese lyrics of the Samba songs that played.


She looked around at the sea of colour before her. Here she was, living out her fantasies, attending one of the most legendary parties in the most gorgeous city in the world.


Her best friend, Saika, told her the Brazilian Carnival was registered as the biggest carnival in the Guinness Book of World Records. Saika was a history nut, and she had a thing for collecting random facts. The carnival was her latest obsession because her mom had been Brazillian. According to her, over two million people and half a million foreigners attend the Carnival each year. The festivity has long evolved since the 1600s when it was rumoured to be a celebration in honour of Greek and Roman gods. Now, it is a celebration that marks the start of Lent, a Roman Catholic tradition, which is a 40-day season of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving that begins on Ash Wednesday. 


Many people travel to the Carnival to breathe in the always-moving spectacle. The Carnival they were celebrating was in Rio de Janeiro. This city entices millions of visitors through its natural ecosystems (think Amazonian Rain Forest), carnival, sambabossa nova, and balneário beaches such as Barra da TijucaCopacabana, and Ipanema. This was exactly why Saika had dragged her to the carnival just as spring vacation from her medical school started. Sanjana had always dreamed of the beauty of Rio ever since she watched her first National Geographic documentary on Brazil. 


Sanjana broke out from her thoughts and grabbed her best friend’s soft hand, who was dancing next to her. With interlocked fingers, both young women giggled in jubilation, covered in a seductive mix of sweat and perfume as they danced. They were participating in one of the local blocos taking place in the streets of Rio de Janeiro during the 10-day celebration of the Carnival. 


Sanjana laughed to herself when she remembered asking Saika what a bloco was. They were both relaxing at Sanjana’s house when Saika showed her the planner she made a full two weeks before their vacation. 


“You already planned all this?” Sanjana had said, quirking her eyebrow. On the inside though, she hadn’t expected anything less from her best friend. 


While you may have heard of this famous city in popular movies like Rio, it is unlikely you have never heard of a ‘blocos’ before. Blocos are boisterous and wild street parties that happen during the Carnival. These parties are planned by individuals, and each party has its unique theme. The bands are allowed to play joyful samba music. 


After Sanjana saw all the planning Saika had done in advance, she thought it would be good if she helped out too. So, she searched up some local blocos during carnival. Sanjana didn’t know the official numbers, but she found an article saying one of the most popular blocos, bola preta, has nearly a million attendees. Sanjana would never tell Saika this, but she was afraid that if they even went near the Bola Preta, Sanjana would be drowned in a mass of a million bodies and lose Saika forever. But this is one of those mindless worries Sanjana planned on keeping to herself.


Speaking of Saika, she was wearing one of the many outfits she bought yesterday from the shopping trip to the Botafogo Praia Mall which was located deep in the bustling city. Saika danced in a lily-white wrap-around skirt and a cherry red summer top. The outfit highlighted her dark tan skin, fierce dark chocolate eyes, and her brown curls with honey-blonde streaks pooled on top of her head in a bun. Saika also boasted about her superior linguistic understanding of Portuguese which was why she was their designated tour guide. 


On the other hand, Sanjana was in her early twenties and overloaded with studies for her examinations in Medical School. Saika had been concerned with how hard Sanjana had been pushing herself. A few months ago, Sanjana hadn’t felt capable of putting a stop to how much work she gave herself. If she had free time, she felt this intense urge to fill it up with more work. She hadn’t stopped putting this much pressure on herself even as she passed out in her dorm room from exhaustion and lack of food. Saika hadn’t told Sanjana this, but she had pulled her best friend away from her studies so Sanjana’s mental health could ease up. 


Saika hoped Sanjana wasn’t going to regret running away from the stony castle that was her Medical School and, instead, make the most of this moment they felt blessed to live in. 


Sweating profusely and face blushing from the heat of April’s blazing summer sun – along with some other elevating feelings welling up in her chest that she did not want to acknowledge – Sanjana pulled out her Samsung Phone and opened up a checklist in her notes app titled, “Activities to do in Rio de Janeiro”


“Can you show me what else we have to do on our to-do list?” Sanjana exclaimed, handing her phone to Saika who was breathing fast from all the dancing. Saika scrolled through the list while Sanjana’s chin rested on Saika’s shoulder. 


“Yeah, I’ll show you. But we should probably start walking away free here, we’ve been dancing for almost two hours,” Saika showed her all the dates, addresses, facts, and places she had written down and then started leading Sanjana past the crowd of celebrating people, “Our next stop is to try this street food stand by the beach. I already know the way there.”


While they walked, Sanjana’s eyes scanned the to-do list in amazement, “Wow…you made our plans super detailed huh. My little manager.” Sanjana teased animatedly, fingers pointing at the checkbox with the words ‘Samba parade’, “This sounds amazing.”


“It gets even better. Here let me show you what I found on the internet.” Saika exclaimed, scrolling to the bottom where she had asked Sanjana to put all the history links Saika had texted.


Saika clicked on a link titled, ‘Mystery of the Carnival: How did it dazzle its way into the world spotlight.’ Saika looked at Sanjana’s curiosity and her face broke into a giddy smile. 


“You already know how much I love history. I wanted to show you this while we walked to the beach. This is all the history behind how the carnival first started. It starts with worshipping Greek and Roman myths, then becomes focused on the Catholic Church, and then later on the aristocracy. Now it’s a celebration everyone can celebrate.” 


“Saika, okay, okay. I’ll listen to your 11-minute history nerd rant.”


“Just you wait, it’ll be a lot more than eleven minutes,” Saika said, smirking, before clearing her throat and reading from the article she picked out, “Dubbed the most legendary show of the year, the Carnival never fails to delight the locals or the tourists. But did you know that the Carnival was originally a Greek festival? The evolution of this fantastical tradition began as a spring festival in honour of the Greek god of wine, Dionysus. The Romans then adopted this tradition from the Greeks, using it to celebrate Bacchus, the Roman god of wine, and Saturnalia, an ancient ‘day off from work’ festival.”


“This is giving me mega Percy Jackson vibes.” Sanjana interrupted. 


 Saika shook her head and pretended to be annoyed, before starting to read again “Later, the Carnival shifted to the Catholic Church’s influence when the Portuguese colonizers, who were predominantly Catholic, arrived in Brazil in the early 1600s. The Rio Carnival became a festival used to celebrate the time before the Catholic tradition of Lent, a 40-day fasting period. The Carnival started to include small balls and masquerade dances inspired by upper-class festivals in Europe.”


“Sounds fancy. Imagine me dressed as a Macaw.”


“AHEM. Fast forward to 1723, when the first real Carnival festivities began. People ventured onto the streets, throwing buckets of water, food, and mud, which often ended in street brawls. Throughout the 1800s, untamed street fights were replaced with more organized parades like the grandes Sociedades (great societies). The emperor and groups of aristocrats dined in masks and luxurious costumes. In the 1840s, masquerade balls set to the polkas and the waltz began to flourish in the streets. A decade later, horse-drawn floats and military bands became the star centre of the parade. Despite all this progress, one of the most important traditions was the pulsating rhythms gifted to us by the Africans. Since the 1600s, enslaved Africans were brought to Brazil, and since then African culture has become an important component of the heritage of Brazil. Afro-Brazilians brought samba and other eclectic mixes of song, music, and dances, into impoverished slums after slavery was abolished in 1888.”


“That’s kind of cool, so the whole carnival is made up of, like, different influences? Like European and African and then its own unique culture? 


“Yup. So, by 1917, the samba became the beating heart of the carnival. Samba unifies others, bringing rich and poor together regardless of wealth. Even today, it’s sung in both the slums and high-class mansions.”


Saika put her hands on Sanjana’s shoulders in a fake dramatic fashion, “I know you’re going to remember none of my history rants later but this is the most important thing you need to know. The first Samba Schools were formed in 1928. From then on, theme songs, elaborate costumes, and vibrant floats became Carnival’s main attraction. The Samba Parade became the most popular event, and the grand Sambadrome was built by a world-famous architect. Together, the parades held in the Sambadrome have become the most spectacular event at this beautiful festival.”


Saika stopped reading mid-article as Sanjana’s brow creased at the last paragraph. “I can’t remember what I don’t know. What are Samba Schools? I thought the Carnival was just one giant parade?”


“Actually, Carnival has many different events. The Samba School is one of the biggest events which takes place at the Sambodromo here in Rio.” Saika gently corrects, scrolling to a checkbox titled ‘Visit the Samba Parade.’ and clicking on the link she had sent in preparation for Sanjana’s questions.


“Oh no, come on Saika, not MORE.”


“UHH yes ‘MORE’,” Saika said enthusiastically, ignoring Sanjana’s complaints. While Sanjana acted tired of Saika’s explanations of carnival she was just pretending. She secretly loved how passionate Saika got when talking about stuff she liked. 


“To continue, the Samba Parade is the event where the city’s numerous samba schools compete for the position of Grand Champion. Each Rio carnival samba school performs to a unique samba song and different samba themes. Performances are made up of dancers, singers, a percussion group, and other musicians. All eyes are on the Samba Parades at the Sambadrome during carnival days. This competition happens at the Sambodrome. When thinking of the Sambodrome, imagine a 2300 ft stretch of Marquês de Sapucaí street converted into a permanent parade ground with bleachers built on either side that can carry 90,000 people.”


“Are we going to go to the Sambodrome?”


“Yes, we’re going today. It’s the main event of the carnival. We have to get ready after we get food. Anyway, now, let me finish, I am almost done. The Samba schools usually belong to a particular neighbourhood or in some cases to a ‘favela’ which is the name given to a shanty town in Brazil. In Rio, the Samba schools mainly consist of volunteers from the local neighbourhood, usually a slum or shanty town. Within these impoverished communities, samba schools create a sense of meaning, identity, and belonging.”


“That sounds nice,” said Sanjana with a smile at Saika having to gasp for breath after reading that whole article. 


“Yeah. My cousin lives in Brazil. She’s actually going to be competing in the Samba parade.”


“Oh, wow, Are we going to see her?”


“Yeah, this is what she’ll be wearing.” Saika pulled out her phone and opened up a photo of her cousin. 


“Gosh, you’ve come prepared with all the notes, and the pictures ready in advance,” Sanjana noted, “I’m loving this dedication on yo-WOW.” Sanjana gasped. In the photo, Sanjana saw Fabiana had hair as black as a tuxedo with oily curls reaching down to her waist, but she had the same eyes and skin tone as Saika. Her dress had been inspired by the legendary phoenix. It was grand, the bottom flowed out into a ball gown that was open from the front and left a small trail in the back. She wore an extravagant feathered crown that was covered with feathers twice as long as Fabiana’s head. The crown was beaded with massive ruby jewels and made Fabiana look like a queen going to rule a kingdom. The top part of her dress was a golden amber colour that shined radiant with applause and had four triangular, dark sunset orange stripes. Her bodice was covered in cinnamon sequins and sunflower yellow glitter and her hair was braided through with scarlet ribbons. 


“Wow.” Sanjana breathed.


“You’ve already said that twice. Come on, I need something more original from you,” Saika teased.


“She looks incredible. Do we have to come dressed like this?”


“Only the Samba School performers have to wear a costume. We can dress up if you like. My tia has some old dresses she used to wear at the Carnival and we can put something together. We’re already going to pick up some traditional Brazilian street food but then afterwards we’ll go back to my tia’s house.”


“Yeah, sure. I love trying new food, so I am down for anything.”


Saika nodded and began pulling another article from her to-do list so she could continue rambling on, “There’s a lot of really popular stands near the beaches or in the Lapa neighbourhood-”


“Hey, Saika?” Sanjana interrupted. 




“…What does tia mean?”


“It means aunt in Portuguese. Who do you think I was talking about this whole time when I told you where we would stay the night?”


“Uhhhhh.” Saika shook her head at Sanjana in amusement.


Fast forward 30 minutes and they were at the Copacabana beach getting food from a kind man running a local Brazilian food stall. “Here you go! I hope you like it. Here in Brazil, we try to make each bite with a lot of love,” said the man, whose name we learned was Felipe. 


Sanjana’s heart warmed delightfully when she watched Saika’s cheery smile biting into her Oswaldo Aranha Filet which was served with fried garlic, fried Portuguese potatoes, and eggs farofa. She had offered to pay for the meal since Saika was already paying to get her entry into one of the Carnival Balls. Sanjana shook herself out of her trance (why was she in a trance anyway? Sanjana thought to herself) and went back to figuring out what she wanted to eat. She was indecisive, but who could blame her, there was so much tasty food.


She tried to remember what Saika was telling her about Brazilian street food on their way here. The most famous Brazilian dish is the Feijoada which is eaten in every corner of the city. This is a rich and hearty stew consisting of black beans, cuts of pork, tomatoes, cabbage, and carrots. 


Another food that is considered a popular breakfast food is the Pão de Queijo which is fluffy cheese bread. The Pão de Queijo originally started as a popular food enslaved Africans would eat and it branched out into Brazilian culture after abolition. Acarajé with Vatapá is another food that stems from African Heritage. This is essentially spicy, African-style falafel. Acarajé is made from mashed black-eyed peas and onions which are then moulded into scone-like shapes and stuffed with Vatapá, which is a spicy paste made from shrimp, and other ingredients. Other essential staples in Brazil are Cassava chips and Cafezinho which is Brazilian coffee.


Saika tapped Sanjana’s shoulder when she noticed the mild panic Sanjana was having over this decision. Sanjana looked up to see both Saika and Felipe staring at her kindly. They understood that Sanjana wasn’t trying to take a long time to choose, she just didn’t want to waste this opportunity by picking something she didn’t like


“I think you’d like this,” Saika said, pointing to a picture on the food stall which displayed the dish, “That is Bolinhos de Bacalhau, which are fried cod cakes. It started as a dish brought by Portuguese immigrants.”


Felipe chimed in and pointed to another picture, “Yes, if you’re looking for main dishes we also have the Picanha which is barbecued beef that is taken from the upper sirloin steak. A lot of people here really like our Coxinha too. It’s like a fried crunchy chicken croquette.”


Felipe pulled out a small menu too and explained, “If you just want dessert though, we have Açai na Tigela. It is a frozen açai palm fruit mashed into a smoothie and served in a bowl or a glass. Brigadeiros are chocolates made from milk, butter, and cocoa powder and covered in pistachios or coconut flakes. I also just added this Pastel de Queijo which is a deep-fried cheese pastry that can be stuffed with ground beef, chicken, or melting cheese or covered in chocolate, caramel, and tropical fruits. It can be both sweet and savoury. If you feel like coming back here for more food, just come anytime.” 


Sanjana sucked up her indecision and chose the Coxinha. She also got some Brigadeiros to share with Saika for later. But she knew she was definitely coming back to this food stall later just so she could try more food and talk to Felipe. Sanjana felt Saika grab her hand and turn her around; before them lay the golden sands and shimmering waters of the Copacabana beach. “Oh, I forgot we were here too,” Sanjana said as Saika led her over to the sand, which felt so nice under her toes, “Aren’t we supposed to go back to your tia’s house?”


“Mmmmm, later. Don’t you wanna eat here though?”


“Sure,” Sanjana responded. Saika beamed and turned back to her food which was only a quarter of the way finished. Saika started telling her about some of the coolest places to see in Rio. 


“Okay so, just some description but this is only one of two of Rio’s famous beaches. The other one is Ipanema beach. While Copacabana is perfect for taking viral photos, Ipanema is a more chic beach. On both beaches, you will find crystal blue ocean waters that are refreshing to the touch. Next to the beaches are some of Rio’s trendiest neighbourhoods, street food stands, and beach kiosks selling traditional artwork and jewellery. Around an hour’s drive from here would take us to the edge of Corcovado mountain. At the top of the mountain is the Christ the Redeemer statue. It’s like 90 feet tall and its arms stretch 90 feet wide. It’s a humanoid statue and it’s meant to be Jesus Christ. It’s also a world-famous UNESCO heritage site. You’d probably remember the statue from the Rio movie series.” 


“Are we going to go see it?”


“Yup, but only after the ball and the samba parade. We also need to tour the Lapa neighbourhood but that could take a whole day because of how much there is to do. This neighbourhood is the ‘historical heart’ and one of the most magical places in Rio. Think of twinkling nightlife and handsome colonial buildings from the 1700s that have now been converted into antique stores and restaurants.”


“Sounds like a lot of fun,” Sanjana responded, “Thank you for putting so much effort into all this.”


“Duh, of course. I think you deserve it,” Saika said with a soft look. The girls finished their food and walked across the beach for a bit. Now they were heading back to Saika’s tia’s place. “Hey, you mentioned a ball right?” Sanjana said, breaking the comfortable silence. 


“Yeah, it’s one of the Rio Carnival balls.”


“What are those about?” Sanjana let a smirk out, “Can you show me an article about it?”


“Mmmmm, I am kind of tired of reading, to be honest.”


“Wait, really?”


“No, I could never get tired of reading, you should know this,” Saika said solemnly but Sanjana knew she was kidding, “Okay so according to what I researched earlier, the Rio Carnival balls are some of the most extravagant events throughout the whole carnival. They range from outrageous fun to more sophisticated nights. The balls happen at various venues dotted throughout the city and dressing up under the cover of a masquerade mask is all part of the fun.”


“Ohhhh!” Sanjana said excitedly, “I have heard of those before! There’s one like the Oscars right?”


“Yeah, it’s just as glamorous as the Oscars. It’s called the Magic Ball at the Copacabana Palace. You’ll see celebrities and wealthy businessmen dressing in expensive tuxedos and glamorous dresses. People like Paris Hilton have attended and the ticket is ridiculously expensive. Luckily, many other balls are more affordable to get into, such as the Cordão do Bola Preta Carnival Ball. This ball is dedicated to the famous samba street band Cordão do Bola Preta and includes live performances during the event.”


“Are you bringing a date?” Sanjana asked all of a sudden.


Saika stopped her description of what her ideal violet ball gown would look like when they would attend a Carnival ball. “No…I came here to hang out with you.” She explained curiously, “Why? Are you thinking of going with someone?”


“Uh no, I was just wondering. A ball seems like a great place to have fun with someone.”


“Yeah, well, I am going to have fun with you.”


Sanjana decided to change the subject. “Are we gonna be at your tia’s place soon?”


Saika paused and looked around as though she hadn’t been paying attention to her surroundings for a minute. “Oh yeah, it’s right there, come on.” Sanjana waved her best friend’s mild confusion off with a slight laugh and dared Saika to race her to the house before Saika broke into another passionate rant. They got inside and after saying hi to Saika’s tia, Saika dragged her best friend upstairs. They had to get to the carnival early because the streets would be blocked up so both of them were already picking out their outfits. 


Sanjana felt her insides do a happy dance when she heard Saika’s gasp of excitement as Sanjana stepped out of the bathroom. Sanjana twirled her cornflower-blue skirt and watched how the skirt floated around. She had chosen to wear a satiny blue dress with a heavy mask coated in fake sapphires and pearls. To top off the outfit, she had picked these comfortable azure blue flats Saika’s Tia owned. The shoes had dark blue ribbons that would wrap around her legs and make her feel like a fairy. Sanjana felt a little less bold in her outfit compared to the pictures Saika had shown of other traditional, flamboyant parade costumes, but she felt good in her skin. She felt alive with her best friend, clothed in a spectacular dress, and in a dazzling city. She had been so bogged down by work and life, that she hadn’t noticed she hadn’t been happy. 


Sanjana grabbed Saika’s hand before she went into the bathroom and smiled when she saw Saika was carrying a violet dress she had been hoping to wear. Sanjana had remembered that was Saika’s favourite colour because it was the same one her mom loved. “Thank you for bringing me here. I feel like I got so busy with my medical studies that I wasn’t focusing on anything else in my life. It was just straight work for hours on end. I didn’t realize it until now but I felt like a machine. Now, it feels like there’s colour in my life again. Thank you for all this. I love you.”


Saika smiled, “Of course, you’re my best friend. I have to go change so we can hurry up and be there on time because they block off the roads for the parade. We’ll talk about this later. I love you too.” Saika squeezed Sanjana’s. But that was only for a split second and then Saika was gone into the bathroom so she could change.


‘Oh no…” Sanjana thought, feeling a weird happy dance in her chest, “I might have a new problem to deal with.” But for now, instead of getting trapped in a spiral of her own overthinking, Sanjana pushed those potentially painful thoughts aside. All she wanted to do was lose herself in the moment; in the dancing, the music, the food, and the beautiful streets of Rio.

Written by: Anonymous Author

Rwanda’s World Leading Progress and comeback from a dark history

Rwanda’s World Leading Progress and comeback from a dark history

Shrieks of pain erupted at the border check. The police had become infuriated after checking the identification cards of the Tutsi family who were trying to pass through the border to evade the violence erupting in parts of Rwanda. The mother cried out in pain as she shielded her son from the bloody sight unfolding in front of them. This was the first of thousands of incidents in the next bloody three months.

6th April 1994 – only a few hours earlier a plane carrying Juvenal Habyarimana, the current Hutu president of Rwanda, was shot down, killing everyone on board. A few hours after the event, violence broke out as Hutu extremists began killing the minority Tutsi residents in the area. The violence got even more extreme. The government, who held hate for the Tutsi ethnic group due to Rwanda’s history, urged neighbours to kill neighbours. People went out holding butches knives and weapons, looking for people to murder. This event is known as the Rwanda genocide, where 800,000 Tutsi minority citizens were murdered because of their ethnicity in only three months. 

This is one of the darkest events in the history of Rwanda and many global leaders were criticized for turning a blind eye to the violence that erupted. Before the horrific genocide, tensions and conflict between the two groups, the majority Hutu and the minority Tutsi, had risen due to their rigid past being colonized by Belgium during the Imperialism era. This was incredibly heartbreaking and it is extremely important to acknowledge the atrocity of this event. No matter the progress Rwanda has undertaken, the brutality of this Rwandan genocide should be remembered by people worldwide as an example of what hate can do if uncontrolled. 

Once the genocide had been overturned by Tutsi rebels, Rwanda’s current president sought a way out of all the destruction. Since then, Paul Kagame, Rwanda’s president, has made immense progress in turning Rwanda into an economic powerhouse of the African continent and in fighting social issues in the country. Kagame led the rebel forces which helped end the 1994 genocide and he has led the reconstruction of Rwanda since then.

 While Kagame has a history of suppressing the opposition and assassinating his rivals, as well as enabling conflict and war between neighbouring African Countries, he has become a champion of women’s rights in Rwanda. The annual 2021 list of Top Ten Countries that have had the most progress towards gender equality has Rwanda charting at number 7. The list was created as part of the Global Gender Report Gap by the World Economic Forum. According to this report, Rwanda has closed around 80.5% of its gender gap to date. This percentage doesn’t mean Rwanda has become one of the world’s best places for a woman – it measures the progress made by that country in closing its gender gap. And Rwanda has made some definite progress. 

Rwanda’s parliament is 61% women-led and half of all ministerial government positions in Rwanda belong to women. The country has one of the world’s highest female political participation. Women also hold 86% of the labour force participation and make 88 cents to a man’s dollar – a smaller wage gap than in the United States. 

Sexual Violence has also been a big problem in Rwanda but there has been openness by the government in resolving this issue. Safe Schools for Girls, which teaches almost 100,000 students, enables those who come from low socio-economic backgrounds to pursue their education instead of dropping out of school. The organization has partnered up with local schools to teach ideas that would reverse the confines of gender roles. 

At one of their schools in a small village outside Rwanda’s capital city, Kigali boys are taught the value of feminism and the dangers of gender-based violence. The students attentively learn how to report domestic abuse cases when they see them happen and how to properly respect the women and girls in their lives. This is a major improvement. 

As the #MeToo Movement has taught, we should not teach victims that assault is their fault, instead, we should teach people how to properly respect others’ boundaries and what consent is. In this space, the boys are taught that it is also their responsibility to end the prevalence of sexual violence and that abuse takes on many faces including financial, emotional, and other forms. They learn that it’s important to give support to girls who have been affected by harassment and give them counselling to help them back into society. 

While the future horizon is shrouded with hope gender equality isn’t ingrained in Rwandan society. For example, although the workforce is powered by women, a large cause for this female participation is the Rwandan genocide. The genocide killed off many men and left the Rwanda population 60% female. Women had to go to work to provide and care for their children and surviving family members. After the genocide, Kagame thought it was unwise to force women out of the workforce when Rwanda desperately needed to be rebuilt. 

Many female parliament members, despite being powerful members of society, have to follow traditional and subservient gender roles at home. Furthermore, in Rwandan culture, the concept of feminism is looked down upon as a ‘Western idea’ which is taking over the traditional culture. The idea that being ‘a good Rwandan woman’ means being patriotic by serving her country but also serving their husbands is still popular.

Many women fear violence at home from their husbands if they fail to do housework. They can feel so trapped that they often contemplate suicide. In many research studies, it is often concluded that mental health is drastically negatively affected in a society that aggressively enforces cultural gender roles. However, as indicated by the progress toward gender equality I mentioned earlier, Rwanda has some of the greatest progress toward gender equality in the world. Their progress surpasses that of countries like the United States and France. 

Rwanda has also recently enjoyed strong economic growth rates with the economy growing at 7% a year and its GDP growing at 5% – earning the title of one of Africa’s fastest-growing economies. This is incredibly impressive as many African countries have some of the highest poverty rates in the world but Rwanda’s progress can spearhead new economic growth. 

The government is greatly developing the financial and business sectors, dramatically increasing Rwanda’s rank from 139 to 62 on the annual World Business Report. Rwanda’s government boasts healthy economies like South Korea and Singapore as its heroes for the economic growth it’s trying to attain.

Technological and innovation projects led by a new ambitious generation of young entrepreneurs have sprung up all over Rwanda. Now, the country has become one of Africa’s ‘leading lights’ on communication and technological advancement. For example, they have an incredibly innovative cashless transport system. With a quick tap of a card, Rwandan citizens can board modern public transportation. 

Rwandan’s list of achievements goes on: Poverty declined from 77% in 2001 to 55% in 2017, while life expectancy at birth improved from 29 in the mid-1990s to 69 in 2019. One achievement that even the US has not accomplished is Rwanda’s Universal Healthcare. For each Rwandan, Universal Health Coverage (UHC) means that all people have access to the health services they need without financial hardship. It includes the full range of essential health services, and if a needy individual were not able to pay for these services, the government will step in to financially support them. 

The story of inspiration only continues to grow. Imagine doctors using their phones to signal for medical supplies and blood donations to be dropped off in a rural area. Once the delivery arrives, the doctors look to see that a drone has done the work. Imagine taking doctor’s appointments over the phone, receiving your prescription via text, and seeking care in an app. Babylon, a world-leading company revolutionizing how we access healthcare, is focused on implementing AI in Rwanda’s healthcare services. Through their efforts, nurses could better assess at-risk patients, arrange follow-up calls with patients, and take note of a patient’s concerning symptoms. All through one-of-a-kind AI technology. 

This progress hints at a brighter future ahead. However, much of this progress should not cover up the fact that there are still grave problems. Progress towards women’s rights does not mean that the strict enforcement of gender roles has disappeared. It does lessen the drastic issue of sexual assault, female school drop-out rates, and many other harmful problems in Rwandan society. A speedy turn towards prosperous healthcare and economic system does not mean that Rwandan citizens aren’t dying on the street from hunger, that children have not sacrificed education so they could provide their families with money, or that people aren’t living from paycheck to paycheck. The tensions between the Tutsi and Hutu groups are like a bullet wound held together by a bandage – the ethnic tensions that led to the genocide still linger. 

But progression is something to celebrate and be thankful for. Because at the least, another family can put food on the plate, and at least another child can stay in school. 

Written by: Zara Jamshed

Important Author’s Note: While I write about the progress of Rwanda, this does not sweep under the rug the country’s dark history and it does not excuse the responsibility of colonial powers and corrupt governments for the events that led to the mass killing. I have purposefully left out dark or triggering details of the Rwandan genocide. I understand the importance of knowing the truth about this event so here are two articles to read more about what occurred during those brutal three months: https://www.history.com/topics/africa/rwandan-genocide

Warrior Women Lost in History

Warrior Women Lost in History

In my experience, I have often seen many sexist men on the internet arguing about men being better than women. They will point to history and argue that men, like Thomas Edison or Nikola Tesla, have given numerous great contributions to humanity, what had women contributed to make them equal to men?

But women have made countless contributions. Since the dawn of time, women have survived and suffered through great amounts of pain and discrimination because of their gender. Women were mocked for using their minds or going to fight in battles, so they were never given the same educational or work opportunities as men. Therefore, when we see successful women in history, it is equally impressive when those women overcome tremendous obstacles to achieve success. You may have heard the tales of female revolutionaries like Joan of Arc or Catherine of Aragon, but many of the most fearsome warrior women get lost in history.

This first story takes place in 43 AD. Before we got ‘modern-day revolutions’, like the French revolution or the Haitian revolution, the people in this time had Trung Trac and Trung Nhi, two Vietnamese sisters, who spearheaded the rebellion to protect their ancestral homeland of Vietnam from Han Chinese Invaders.

As a backstory, both sisters led semi-privileged lives and were fiercely educated in martial arts and literature when they were young. During this century’s Southeast Asia society, women’s rights were progressive enough that women could have access to education, property, and high social status.

Trung Trac grew up to marry Thi Sach, who was a general from a neighbouring district. But when the Chinese increased taxes on salt and forcibly took bribes from local Vietnamese officials, Trung Trac’s husband began to organize a rebellion against the Chinese empire. The conflict reached a boiling point; the Han people were trying to take authority away from the aristocrats. So, the aristocratic class made up of chieftains and overlords, tried to prevent the Han from taking their power.

Trung Trac helped her husband execute the rebellion, but eventually, he was captured and executed without a trial. Outraged by her husband’s death, Trung Trac tried to mobilize an army of her own with her sister, Trung Nhi, to fight against the Chinese. Their army would number 80,000 soldiers and include both peasants and aristocrats: it was truly a people’s revolution. The battalion was led by 36 women generals. Armed with swords, bows, axes, arrows, and spears, the Trung Sisters and their army stormed 65 Chinese-run citadels and the governor’s home. They forced the Chinese leader out of the region and gained control over Vietnam.

Trung Trac was crowned the queen of independent Vietnam. She ruled alongside her sister, as two sisterly queens, for two years of freedom. Eventually, the Han empire sought to recapture Vietnam. The sisters were unprepared when the Chinese warriors stormed their country once more. Unfortunately, the sisters’ army was defeated and Vietnam lost its independence. No one is quite sure what happened to the Trung sisters after the war. Most likely, they were captured by the Han army and executed, but some people say they drowned in a river so they could perish with their hard-earned freedom.

In the 2,000 years since their death, the sisters served as an embodiment of hope during the French colonization of Vietnam and the Vietnam War. They exemplify how two brave women ignited a rebellion against colonialism, and eventually ruled an independent nation as queens. In current-day Vietnam, the Trung sisters are celebrating the anniversary of their deaths. They are depicted riding on elephants in battles and have been hailed in portraits as a symbol of Vietnamese resistance.

While Ching Shih may have been hailed as ‘The Chinese Pirate Queen’ instead of as a warrior woman like the title of this article suggests, she is considered to be the most successful pirate in history.

Ching Shih was born in 1775 in a poverty-stricken society during China’s Qing Dynasty. Later in her life, she was forced to board one of Canton’s floating brothels and began to work as a prostitute for money. In 1801, she was carried off to marry a pirate commander named Cheng Yi. While the marriage proposal was more a threat than an offer, Ching Shih wanted a few conditions first. She wanted an equal share in the pirate commander’s plunder from conquered ships and a say in his business.

She put in place numerous reforms on their pirate ships that helped female captives and managed to get weak or pregnant captives free as soon as possible. Their teamwork was a massive success until six years later Cheng Yi was killed in a typhoon.

After his death, his wife took over her husband’s pirates, the Red Flag Fleet, one of China’s biggest pirate crews. Sailing wasn’t her foremost strength so she put her first mate to work at the helm and instead played the mastermind of this massive pirate operation. Her force numbered 1800 ships and 80,000 pirates under her command.

By 1808, a year or two after her husband’s death, her force was so formidable that several armies had to be sent after her. The Qing Dynasty sent its ships to defeat the Red Flag Fleet but were defeated due to the fleet’s firepower and Ching Shih’s leadership. British and Portuguese navies, some of the most fearsome naval armies at this time, were also defeated. Eventually, she negotiated a truce with the Chinese government. Nine years later, she signed a very favourable contract with the Chinese emperor which got her pirate crew new jobs, the right for them to keep their loot, and the title of “Lady by Imperial Decree” for herself.

After she retired, she opened several businesses and died in peace at age 69. She is remembered as one of the greatest pirates to have ever lived.

“We simply couldn’t grasp that the Soviet airmen that caused us the greatest trouble were, in fact, women,” one top German commander wrote in 1942. “These women feared nothing.”

Jumping about 140 years in the future, we arrive in 1943, during the time of WW2. From some of the most gruesome fighting, history has ever seen, emerged a highly trained squadron of Russian female pilots who bombed Nazis in pitch darkness. They were nicknamed the “Night Witches” by their enemies because their whooshing pilots resembled the sound of a sweeping boom. They successfully dropped more than 23,000 tons of bombs on Nazi targets and became one of the Soviet’s most crucial assets in winning World War 2.

Even though these women dealt with issues of disrespect, sexual harassment, and sexism on the ground, they were so feared and hated by the Nazis that any German airman who killed one would automatically win the prestigious Iron Cross Medal. Officially, these women were members of the all-female Soviet Air Forces’ 588th Night Bomber Regiment which made the Soviet Union the first nation to officially allow women to engage in combat.

Before all their glorious success though, women were completely barred from combat. Since women were seen as delicate homemakers, the idea of female fighters made people laugh. This changed when Hitler launched Operation Barbarossa, a full-scale invasion of Soviet Russia. By the fall, the Nazis were pressing on Moscow and the Soviet army struggled enormously. If the Nazis succeeded in taking over Russia, they could have won WW2 by conquering all of Europe. Finally, at a point of desperation, the Soviets needed help.

The all-female squadron was the idea of Marina Raskova, the “Soviet Amelia Earhart”. She noticed she received hundreds of letters from women asking to join the army after their husbands or sons had been killed. While they were allowed to play a few support roles, women wanted to avenge their fallen families by being gunwomen or pilots. Raskova petitioned Joseph Stalin to let her form an all-female fighting squadron.

The ‘Night Witches’ were both young and intelligent: they consisted of ages 17 to 26 and underwent a pilot education, that took male soldiers years to learn, in only a few months. They received meagre hand-me-down uniforms, and oversized boots, and were provided outdated Polikar Po-2 biplanes that were originally used as crop dusters. They also lacked radars, parachutes, guns, and radios that the men used and were expected to use tools like rulers, stopwatches, flashlights, maps, and compasses instead.

Male soldiers didn’t like ‘little girls’ going to the front line. They believed it was a man’s thing. But these ‘Night Witches’ flew entirely in the dark, dropping bombs, and engaging in the crossfire. During harsh Soviet winters, their planes became so cold that just touching them would rip off bare skin. But the pilots rose above the jeers and hardships and became the most highly decorated unit in the Soviet Air Force.

These women became so deadly that Nazis truly believed it was because they were all, either former master criminals, or had been given special injections that allowed them to see at night. Their abilities thus earned them their legendary nickname.

Written by: Zara Jamshed

My Loneliness is Mine

My Loneliness is Mine

There’s an interesting thing that happens to some of us when we lean into solitude – we get used to loneliness. We make a tradeoff with ourselves – our loneliness is better than the loneliness others inflict on us. To be next to someone we love and feel utterly alone, bruised, and abused is a pill that we have refused to swallow. So we choose loneliness willingly. We revel in the silence – it silences the voices in our heads. 
Written By: Nancy Akinyi Ouma
What Sweden Did

What Sweden Did

Nine p.m., May sixth. Forehead kiss from Ma, sad goodbyes, and my final departure to a land far from home.


“Welcome to Sweden,” Göran laughed.

I met other writers on the African Literature Project; Mercy Dhliwayo, the Zimbabwean with
moving poetry about racism, and Alex Ireeta, the Ugandan filmmaker telling stories of love and war.

Plenary sessions with Swedes ignited conversations about African literature, highlighting colonialism and development in Africa.

“Ghanaian literary culture?”

“Growing. We encourage children to cultivate reading and writing habits,” I smiled, “My
organisation provides opportunities to improve their literacy skills.”

We visited various schools, learning innovative ways to solve literacy-related problems.
I loved Malmö, with its kaleidoscope of people from across the world. The words god morgon
and tack rolled off my tongue, and my Swedish friends loved the patterns on my Ankara pants.
Despite having different cultures, we were interconnected by our passion for education.

Today, I’m back home and ready to start a mobile-library project for underprivileged children in Accra, inspired by Sweden’s libraries.

I dream of a Ghana that breaks barriers of underdevelopment, embracing the powerful role of diversity in bringing the change we need. And, it all begins with education.

Writer: Audrey Obuobisa-Darko