Girls’ Education in Afghanistan at Risk: A critical conversation with Shabana Bisaj-Rasikh

On Tuesday, Oct. 12, RWU received a visit from Shabana Bisaj-Rasikh– writer, activist, and president/co-founder of the School of Leadership, Afghanistan (SOLA), the first girls’ boarding school in Kabul, Afghanistan. The event was incredibly poignant.

Bisaj-Rasikh was born in Kabul and continued her education in the U.S. at the age of 15. She went on to graduate from Middlebury College in Vermont and earned her master’s degree from Oxford University. While still an undergraduate student, Bisaj-Rasikh co-founded SOLA as a scholarship program providing Afghan girls with educational opportunities outside of the country. Before long, though, the organization transitioned to bringing quality education into Afghanistan.

“It’s fascinating to link progress in a society to young girls receiving an education,” Bisaj-Raskikh said.

When asked about her experience attending college in the U.S., Bisaj-Rasikh spoke of her initial surprise over an environment where girls could take their education for granted. However, she sees this phenomenon as “a beautiful thing”– the joy of seeing young women go about their lives without the “looming threat over their heads that their education could be taken away from them.” As for her own schooling, she expressed her gratitude for her parents’ avid dedication to their daughters’ education. Also incredibly important were those who ran the secret school she attended as a young child.

“[These were] incredibly brave Afghan women…who chose to take the very, very personal risk of educating girls in their homes.” Often, she noted, in their very living rooms.

Today, such selfless individuals are in deep danger as Afghanistan, under the rule of the Taliban once again, has become the only country in the world where secondary school is outlawed for girls.

Which would you choose? Bisaj-Rasikh asked the audience. Education, or your life?

SOLA’s staff members, their families and students fled Afghanistan in August as the Taliban invaded, no longer held back by U.S. forces. The school has found a new home in Kigali, Rwanda, where their circle of around 100 young students has turned into a community of nearly 250 people, including toddlers. SOLA took the opportunity to expand its offerings, beginning programs for adults and small children as well as those in place for sixth through eleventh graders. They have plans to increase their reach even further, the specifics of which will be announced soon.

If anyone has doubts about the importance of educating young girls, Bisaj-Rasikh has several compelling arguments. According to research, she told us, “the most effective way to eradicate poverty globally is to invest in girls’ education.”

One study from climate change resource Project Drawdown listed the top 80 ways to reduce global warming. Increasing girls’ education was #6.

“We need these girls in school to help us…address these world crises,” Bisaj-Rasikh said. “It will quite literally change the world.”

To the students of RWU, she offered this advice–do not look away. Students do not have the luxury of doing so. Call senators and ask them what they are doing to help. Support organizations helping refugees navigate their transition to the U.S. And most of all, understand the significance of girls’ education. This crisis is a reality, not just a warning.

“If there’s one group of people who know and understand the power of girls’ education, it’s terrorists,” Bisaj-Rasikh told us. “Look at what they do first…they understand what it means.”

RWU will provide two full scholarships to Afghan women as well as additional funding for summer programming and travel expenses. To learn more about Shabana Bisaj-Rasikh and how to help SOLA’s community, visit