Tanweer School is a private K school in a lower-middle-class neighborhood in Kabul. Photographer David Gilkey and I spent two days there — after a three-week embedment with Afghan special forces. The education system in Afghanistan is as large and diverse as the country itself. Rural schools have little in common with urban ones, and reliable data about teachers, students and money spent are hard to come by. The first thing I noticed during our two days there was a picture you never would have seen under the Taliban: girls walking to school.
The image is of an adolescent girl with green eyes in a red headscarf looking intensely at the camera. The identity of the photo's subject was not initially known, but in early , she was identified as Sharbat Gula. She was an Afghan child who was living in the Nasir Bagh refugee camp in Pakistan during the time of the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan when she was photographed. Gula was one of the students in an informal school in the Nasir Bagh refugee camp in
Jenny Nordberg, the reporter who broke this story for The New York Times , constructs a dramatic account of Afghan women and girls clandestinely living on the other side of the gender divide that grants half its population almost no rights and little freedom. Offering a new and original story about Afghanistan and its women, The Underground Girls of Kabul investigates the hidden practice of bacha posh that has affected generations, while examining its parallels to our own history. The act of reaching for more freedom by impersonating a man is one that can be recognized by women everywhere. The Underground Girls of Kabul is now available in paperback. What do you do if you are in a war zone and you see something that you absolutely do not understand?
Ed note. Sameela is a native of Afghanistan and gender equality advocate currently residing in the UK. The sun beats down on the snow streaked peaks, the winding river and the neat, square compounds of sandstone. It lights up the valley, the mountains, the villages, and the two women whose bodies swing from nooses in a tree. This is Afghanistan.