Sahar Danish, a women’s rights activist and educator working for an NGO to promote the rights of orphan children for ten years, had to flee the country with her child due to fear of being prosecuted. Her organization was running orphanages for girls’ orphans, where Sahar also spent years of her life there. After the Taliban takeover, they had to continue it clandestinely, which was very challenging. Sahar graduated from dental college and was preparing herself to practice as a dentist and continue her master’s degree in dentistry and dream of becoming a doctor in dental surgery. All was unfulfilled, and now living as an asylum seeker in Turkey with no future. She has a P1 case with the USA, but there is no news of her case. Despite the difficulties she faces in Turkey as a refugee, she did not stop teaching the orphan girls in those clandestine schools inside Afghanistan. Now that she is safe, she coordinates volunteers worldwide to teach those marginalized girls banned by the Taliban to get an education and have a brighter future. 

Can you share your personal experiences of how the Taliban ban on education impacted your life? 

Sahar: like many other women, my dream was to continue my master’s degree in dentistry, and I wanted to study and work in this field. I wanted to serve the most marginalized women and girls in Afghanistan through my field of work. But after the Taliban returned, all my future plan and dream was ruined, and I became a refugee. I was working for an NGO that provided shelter and education to thousands of girls and orphans, but after the Taliban, the door of this NGO and their orphanages were closed. I lost my job and my earnings. Though later, this NGO managed to accommodate a small number of girls in a few houses so that they could continue their education. I was teaching there, but it was so risky and challenging. A few times, I got a call from the Taliban asking about our NGO and the houses we had. This ban on education impacted my life and the lives of those I worked for a better future. I can’t see any future for myself in Afghanistan now, but I am happy that from here, I can teach girls online that cannot attend school. Meanwhile, coordinate all the volunteer teachers worldwide to teach these Afghan girls inside Afghanistan. 

Do you think displacement affected your aspirations and future goals (both positive/negative)? If yes, how? Can you share with us any challenges or opportunities you experienced in access to education?

Sahar: Migration has enormous challenges. Living a refugee life is different from living in your own country. I could say it’s much more challenging to live in Asian countries like Iran, Pakistan and Turkey that do not provide any services especially financial assistance to refugees. It’s been seven months since I have been here without any support, educational, or work opportunities. I came to Turkey with the hope of continuing my higher education and could work to continue my life. I cannot attend a university because my visa is expired, and the Turkish government did not renew it; I don’t have UNHCR refugee status yet, even I cannot travel to another city as I do not have legal documents. A single mother with a kid has its own challenges, as my husband could not manage to come here. He is stuck in Iran. I am sure many other girls like me who are displaced in Pakistan or Iran have the same situation as me.  The main issue here in Turkey is that until you do not have the residency, you cannot attend school or university and also can’t work. 

What role should host countries, NGOs, educational institutions and other women’s and human rights organizations play in creating educational opportunities for displaced Afghan women and girls?

Sahar: The NGOs working for refugees in Turkey are working in partnership with the government and UNHCR, and they must help those refugees that do not have residency to get UNHCR refugee status so they can study or work. The school and universities can provide free education to refugee girls and women. Children’s education is a concern of the refugee families here, so it is necessary and the school should admit them for free regardless of their refugee status and documentation. I believe the refugee organization can change the life of refugee women if they can provide opportunities and services for refugee women in partnership with the government. They can lobby with the government to provide educational and work opportunities for refugee girls and women. The government, NGOs and educational institutes should offer scholarships and fellowships for refugee women. The issue is that if you do not have a Turkish Residency, you cannot get these opportunities, so I request that schools and universities to provide online educational opportunities for refugee women. Here in Turkey, learning the language to find a job is very important. Again, you cannot get admission to even private language courses if you do not have a residency. The NGOs should provide free language courses for refugees. 

In your opinion, how can education help to promote gender equality and empower refugee women and girls, and contribute to their future success in the new host country?

Sahar: Women refugees, if they get chances to enhance their education and get higher education, they can get a good job, which will empower them. They will be financially independent and will not depend on the male member of the family. Those who are independent financially might also not experience domestic violence compared to those who are dependent on their husband or male member of the family. If women are educated, they can play an important role in the development of society and their country even more than men. Women have more capabilities than men if provided with space and opportunities. I want to say loudly that all those women and girls that do not have access to or opportunities to study or work during their displacement have similar lives to those who are inside Afghanistan living under the restriction of the Taliban regime. They are not allowed to study or work, and we also do not have opportunities or are legally not allowed to study or work due to our refugee status. 

In the end, I want to emphasize that a refugee woman with education or higher education can change her life and will have a successful life and can change the life of their children as well. Therefore, education can play an important role in the life of refugee women. 

What message would you like to share with the world on this World Refugee Day about the importance of education for Afghan refugee women and girls? 

Sahar: I request all organizations working for refugees to provide educational opportunities for women refugees if you want a refugee woman to have a better and more successful life. Refugee women should be allowed to study and work regardless of their refugee status.