The School of Leadership, Afghanistan (SOLA) is the first and only Afghan-led boarding school for Afghan girls, founded in 2008. While initially established in Kabul, Afghanistan, since the Taliban takeover, the school now operates in Rwanda. SOLA prioritizes education for Afghan girls amid Afghanistan’s instability.
Girls’ Education in Afghanistan
Historically, girls and women in Afghanistan have faced barriers to accessing education. The problem first began in 1992, after the fall of the Communist regime in Afghanistan. The Taliban seized control and immediately began to cut back educational opportunities for women.
In 2001, a U.S.-led invasion overthrew the Taliban, removing the group from power. From 2001 to 2018, nearly every statistic pointed to an improved system. School enrollment rose from 1 million to 10 million students, the number of teachers rose by almost 60% and the female literacy rate increased almost twofold from 17% to 30%. In particular, the number of girls in primary school increased from “almost zero in 2001 to 2.5 million in 2018,” UNESCO says. Furthermore, the number of Afghan girls enrolled in higher education rose from about 5,000 in 2001 to around 90,000 in 2018.
Before the Taliban seized power for a second time, the outlook for educational opportunities for girls was a positive one. As the Taliban did when it first came to power, the group began to reduce educational opportunities for women once again. According to UNESCO, 30% of Afghan girls have never taken part in primary education. In December 2022, the Taliban suspended women’s tertiary education, impacting more than 100,000 girls and women.
How SOLA Makes an Impact
The School of Leadership, Afghanistan welcomed its first inaugural class of girls in 2016. SOLA and its founder Shabana Basij-Rasikh continue to pave the way for the education of Afghan girls despite the seemingly grim outlook. According to SOLA’s website, it took merely four days for the school to move from Kabul to Rwanda after the fall of Afghanistan to the Taliban.
Classes continued and Afghan girls from around the world come to SOLA to learn with a student population totaling well over 100 girls between 6th and 12th grades. While SOLA is only a small school, it is making a significant impact on the education of Afghan girls. SOLA is a beacon of hope for young Afghan women hoping to access education.
SOLA covers a variety of curricula for its students. All main classes are taught in English, which allows students to develop their language skills while learning geography, math, science and history. The school also teaches courses on the Quran, ensuring that the girls can maintain their religious background and beliefs while developing a secular education. SOLA even makes some sports, like swimming, available to the students.
The importance of formal education for Afghan girls cannot be understated. For Afghan girls who cannot come to SOLA, SOLA’s website says, “we will find opportunities to bring SOLA to them. We will work to build a global network of sisterhood between these girls and our SOLA students and alumnae and we will nurture and support the members of this sisterhood who will be well-prepared to return to Afghanistan and rebuild their homeland.”
SOLA’s vision is to “educate Afghan girls: to create a leadership generation of women who will one day return home to Afghanistan and rebuild all that the Taliban have destroyed. What began in Kabul continues now in Rwanda,” its website says.
The history of educational opportunities for Afghan women is complex. SOLA aims to ensure that young Afghan girls have a chance at a bright future by continuing their education outside of war-torn Afghanistan.
– Ezra Bernstein