The fall of the Taliban regime has brought many dramatic changes in the lives of the people of Afghanistan. Few of those changes are more visible or more welcome than the re-opening of schools for girls. For many years, women were able to enter professions as doctors, lawyers and social workers. Those possibilities are now available once more.
The Taliban had created a situation in which the education of girls - which they could never completely stop - became an illegal underground conspiracy. Many parents wanted their daughters educated despite the medieval restrictions. Brave teachers continued to offer instruction to female students in secret, and at great personal risk.
Two years ago, I shared with Nancy Lindborg, Mercy Corps' President and my colleague in our Washington office, a plan for bringing assistance to Afghan refugees in Iran. One of our unforgettable hours was a visit we made to an education study center for young Afghan adults in the city of Masad. Housed in a simple two-story building on a busy street, the center held two crowded, bare-bones classrooms. The one on the bottom floor was for men only, the one directly above for young women.
All were diligently studying textbooks in a few standard subjects. In the women's study hall, I asked: "Do any of you ever intend to go back to Afghanistan?" The answers were virtually unanimous: "Yes, of course. But only after the Taliban are gone."
Educated women everywhere are in the forefront of social advancement and human freedom. While the Taliban are not completely gone from Afghanistan, they are certainly no longer in power. Great changes are under way. And nothing will be more important than modernizing, improving and expanding the Afghan educational system.
There is nothing more important that we can do for the future stability, peace and progress of Afghanistan than to help develop strong schools rooted in Afghan culture. We must work to achieve full, free and equal educational opportunities for both sexes.