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With The Taliban's Return To Power, Will Afghan Girls Keep Going To School?

NOEL KING, HOST:

What will happen to the gains made by women and girls in Afghanistan over the past 20 years? The last time the Taliban were in power, Afghan girls were forbidden from attending school, and women were nearly erased from civic life. They were confined to their homes and only allowed to leave in the company of male relatives. Pashtana Durrani is the founder and executive director of LEARN. That's a charity focused on education in Afghanistan. When we talked earlier today, she asked that we not disclose where she is because she is very concerned for her safety.

Thank you for being with us today. We really appreciate it.

PASHTANA DURRANI: Thank you for having me.

KING: What have things been like for you and for your family over the last few days?

DURRANI: A lot of heartbreak has been there in the process. Girls, women in my family, they have been crying over everything that has been happening - men taking over streets, them celebrating their victories but at the same time, us losing our identity. And the fact that all national flags were removed from all the public offices, that broke my heart.

KING: Why?

DURRANI: Because it's a symbol of identity - we all belong to that identity. That is our identity. It has been from the past hundreds of years. And now they remove it in just a few hours just because they are in power. That doesn't make it right.

KING: Were you an adult or a child in 1996, the last time the Taliban ruled Kabul?

DURRANI: I wasn't even born. I was born in '97. And so by the time I was even able to walk, they were out of power.

KING: I see. So you've lived a very different life than women who are older than you. Your organization focuses on education, for women and girls, especially. What does the Taliban taking over mean for their lives and their future? And at this point, I understand we are only speculating, but I imagine you have some educated guesses.

DURRANI: I do. Like, I just saw this video from this lady, and she was telling everyone to go back to their work and the classes and all that. But then what is the guarantee? What is your guarantee that these girls going to schools can stay safe there, that the Taliban won't just come in and slap them left and right? They went to the Azizi Bank. They got out all the ladies that were working.

So for me to accept and, like, for me to make an educated guess, yes, they will try to be very open to the idea of education and women rights. But then what sort of women rights are we talking about? What sort of educational rights are we talking about? Those are very important things, you know?

KING: This incident at the Azizi Bank - what happened?

DURRANI: They went in. They took all the women staff out of there, and they asked them to send in their male relatives to fill in for them. I mean, like, look at the sheer - I don't - the sheer ignorance, I would say. I wanted to use a different word, but that's not very appropriate. But look at the sheer ignorance that they have. Do you want someone who has studied literature to come in and fill for a teller or an accountant? (Non-English language spoken).

KING: The Taliban - you alluded to this. The Taliban have said, we'll do things differently this time. Essentially, they've said, we will give women rights. It won't be 1996 again. You don't believe them?

DURRANI: If it's not 1996, then why are there girls in Herat not going to university? If it's not 1996, why are women being sent from Azizi Bank to home? You have to understand saying one thing and then sending off a different message on the ground, those are two different things that the Taliban are selling the stories right now.

KING: OK. We - we're just talking about women being sent home from their jobs. We're talking about the girls in your family crying. Do you feel like you and your family are directly in danger from the Taliban?

DURRANI: I think I have been vocal. But also, at the same time, people who have worked with me on, like, you know, feminist causes, and, like, you know, political rights, education and all that, I'm afraid about all those people. I'm not afraid about me at the moment. I'm afraid about all those people. And also because I'm vocal, so it might be just to shut me - people - they will probably use tactics if I don't fall in line. So I don't want to assume things at the moment, but that's what they have been doing in the past.

KING: Pashtana, do you have any sense of what those tactics might be?

DURRANI: There are different tactics. I mean, like, right now, you can see that in Kabul they have searched one journalist's home, and the other one is unreachable up until now. You can see the plight of Afghan women for yourself. So I'm not the first one who is being like, you know - these tactics being used at.

KING: Will you leave Afghanistan if you can? Are you trying to get out?

DURRANI: I don't want to leave. I don't want to leave. But if things come to that, then we have to see what other options do we have. But one thing for sure, I know that I won't be abandoning my girls like the world did. And I will be making sure they access education even if it's underground.

KING: Underground - talk about what that might mean.

DURRANI: I'm trying to get them to schools through this online tool, which will - they will be able to access it through any device, and they can access all these courses that are pre-uploaded for them. So right now, I'm just in talks to get that up and running.

KING: Can you tell me about the importance of education to Afghan girls and women?

DURRANI: It's - OK. Let me give you an example. When you were a child and you were being sent out to school, I know you must have thrown a bit of tantrum and told, like, oh, I don't want to go, blah, blah, blah.

KING: Sometimes, yeah.

DURRANI: In my country, and the girls that I talk to, they love going to school. They wake up. They are ready. You know, I - when I was a kid, I used to get ready in the night when I used to go to school in the morning. This is how happy I used to be when I used to go to school. And I'm not the only one. There are millions of girls like me, right? And now that you talk about the fact that these girls won't be able to access that right, not be able to celebrate it, it just breaks your heart.

KING: Yeah, I think you're pointing to the fact that when something has been closed off to you, when something is not a given, like school, you really want it. You really respect it.

DURRANI: Because you have earned it - you have earned it. That's the important thing.

KING: Because you've earned it. Pashtana Durrani in Afghanistan. Thank you for talking to us, and please stay safe.

DURRANI: Thank you for having me. Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF CORRE'S "AEON") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.