Sakena Jacoobi is an Afghan woman who’s been working on women’s education in Afghanistan for the past several decades, NPR reports. She started in 1995, opening schools for Afghan girls in refugee camps across the Pakistan border. After the Taliban fell, she went back to her hometown, Herat, near the Afghanistan-Iran border, and she set up home schools for women and girls.
Jacoobi is concerned about the threat to women’s rights once the international security forces leave Afghanistan, raising the likelihood of a Taliban resurgence.
“If the security is not available for the women of Afghanistan, they will be in trouble. Getting out of the house, going to school, going to work tasks – they are all going to be an issue that we are really concerned about it,” she says. “. And who is there to really guarantee their security? We don’t have really right now an army. The army is not really capable. How they are capable to protect our women, our children?”
Jacoobi says about a quarter of roughly six million Afghan schoolchildren are girls.
Like the schoolgirl Malala Yousafzai, in neighboring Pakistan, who was recently shot by the Taliban.
The New York Times features a horrendous case that highlights the threats women already face prior to the international withdrawal from the country:
It is doubly miraculous that the young woman named Gul Meena is alive. After she was struck by an ax 15 times, slashing her head and face so deeply that it exposed her brain, she held on long enough to reach medical care and then, despite the limitations of what the doctors could do, clung to life.
“Americans and Europeans have put a special emphasis on programs to help Afghan women and raise awareness of their rights,” The Times adds. “Now, as the Western money and presence are dwindling, women’s advocates fear that even the limited gains will erode and a more tribal and Taliban culture will prevail, especially in the south and east of the country, where Pashtun tribal attitudes toward women are strongly held.”
Thousands of Afghan girls daily risk the fate of Malala (right), says Jacoobi.
“Their life has been threatened. They have been disappeared – all kinds of things happen to the girls in Afghanistan,” she tells NPR’s Rachel Martin, reaffirming her intention to stay and fight for women’s rights, despite threats to her own life.
MARTIN: You’ve gotten a lot of international attention for your work. You’ve received many honors. Has this attention made it in some ways more difficult because you have such a high profile? Has it made you a target for critics? Now, up until this point in the interview, Jacoobi had been quick to answer every question. But when asked about her own safety, she paused, she leaned back in her chair and chose her words carefully.
JACOOBI: You know, I love my country, I love my people, especially the women of Afghanistan in my heart. And when you choose to do something, you do what you will, it takes you to do it, when you have a passion and love for it.
MARTIN: Have you ever been threatened as a result of your work?
JACOOBI: Well, you decide what you do in life, and that you do, no matter what it takes.
Sakena Jacoobi is the executive director of the Afghan Institute of Learning, based in Herat. She was a recipient of the 2005 National Endowment for Democracy award.