Omid Now نو امید
A project supporting Afghan women to access Higher Education
We do not want all our dreams buried under the ground.
We will grow. And we will keep going. (K)
New Hope, Omid Now, is a project set up to support women in Afghanistan who have been denied the right to continue or start their tertiary education after the Taliban took over Afghanistan on 15 August 2021.
In September 2021, following the harrowing experiences of an emerging Taliban rule, Mursal and her family succeeded in fleeing Afghanistan and arriving in Australia on a Humanitarian Visa. We had worked together on our Making Marks handkerchief art project in 2018 – 2020 and were still in touch in 2021. Within two months of Mursal's arrival in Australia, she inspired an initiative to help other women in Afghanistan find a way to regain their lives through education.
Mursal proposed we, as a team, find sponsors to fund university studies and living expenses for women who had been forced to stop their studies and their public lives, and were now restricted to the boundaries of their homes. Our work assists women to continue their studies in Afghanistan if it is possible to do so, and/or to study outside of Afghanistan in places such as India, Turkey, Bangladesh and Australia.
We are not a charity. We are not an organisation. We are a group of people who stand in solidarity with the women of Afghanistan. However, we've learnt the benefits of charities and we have reached an Auspice Agreement with the Support Association for Women of Afghanistan (SAWA - Australia (SA)), SAWA - Australia (SA) has opened a dedicated bank account for our project. All contributions to this account are tax deductible. New Hope Donations account
– Gali Weiss, Barbara Kameniar and Mursal Nazari
I want freedom and equality for women and men, and I believe that educated
women and girls make it possible. (G)
The project’s aim is simple: to assist as many Afghan women as possible to continue to access higher education either within Afghanistan, Australia, or a third country.
Working with friends and colleagues, New Hope/Omid Now supported the tuition fees and living costs of three women outside Afghanistan, and four women within Afghanistan until they were banned from universities at the end of 2022.
In addition, in 2022, we supported three young women from a remote Afghan province through their application process to enter the Asian University for Women (AUW), a not-for-profit university in Bangladesh. As a result of our collaboration with the AUW, the women are now in Chittagong, starting their new lives through education. They will be studying at the AUW for the next five years.
This year, 2023, four of our Afghan women were granted student visas from the Australian government, after their offer of scholarships and stipends from the University of Melbourne – three of them for five years and the fourth for three years. They are now in Melbourne.
The women in Afghanistan with whom we are in contact constantly tell us that education is their one hope for the future of their country. They are motivated to study further so they can contribute knowledge to others. They see themselves as modelling possibilities for the continuing generations of women, as showing others that women can exist, function and grow both themselves and their people despite the authority’s attempts to absent them.
The continuation of women’s education will ensure that change can come more quickly, and when it does, women will have the skills and knowledge to ensure they are able to take their place as leaders within a more just Afghanistan.
Overview of Education in Afghanistan
Ensuring women have access to education in Afghanistan has always been challenging. From the first formal school for girls, Masturat, established under the auspices of Queen Suraya in 1920, to the complete exclusion of women and girls under the Taliban rule in the late 1990s; from the resurgence of female education in the 2000s within the era of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, to the severe restrictions placed on girls and women in attending schools and universities since the Taliban’s second takeover in August 2021. The education of girls and women has remained a matter of ideological contestation, rather than a human right. While schools in some provinces have reopened their doors to young girls, access is not guaranteed for older ones, nor is the right to an education universally accepted. Some universities, both private and public, have reopened to women, but many women are afraid to attend. Fees for private universities are beyond many families’ capacities in these times of extreme poverty. Those who do attend have told us that the quality of education available to them is limited (many academics fled the country in August 2021 or remain in hiding), and that women are not permitted to attend classes with male students nor access the same facilities for their studies. The current rule for women students is to wear black burqas or abayas together with hijabs and niqabs to ensure their bodies, hair and faces are covered. We have received testimonies of violent harassment by Taliban guards if even the smallest lock of hair escapes a woman’s covering. Women are required to stay in their dorms or homes when they are not in class, effectively rendering them prisoners
“When I was a child, my mother always sang different songs to me. My father was illiterate, and he was a farmer, but my mother was able to read and write. Every day we went to our farm and my mother sang to me and I loved to hear songs and to sing songs. I had a nice childhood with my classmates and my friends until grade eight. After that, my father told me to stop going to school and that I should help my mother in her daily house chores and on the farm. But fortunately, my mother supported me to continue my schooling. I finished school with hundreds of problems such as poverty, violence, transportation; my school was three kilometres away from my house and every day I walked to school. Ever since my childhood, I have dreamed of being an educated girl. And I always tried my best to capture my dreams.
The undesirable traditions in Afghan society, especially in villages, that deprived women and girls from going to school, sports, music, etc., raised a big question mark in my mind. It made me explore further where these inappropriate traditions come from. This motivated me to start reading different newspapers and reading the experiences and lives of citizens of other countries, and studies of external societies. As time passed, I became interested in studying sociology at university as well.
In 2019, after passing the university entrance exam, I succeeded in starting to study sociology in Badakhshan public university. Going to university was again a challenge for me. The university was two kilometres away from my house, I had not enough money to pay for transport, and the security situation was not good. With lots of problems, I continued going to university and I started some home literacy classes for illiterate women and girls of the village area. I want freedom and equality for women and men, so I believe that educated women and girls make it possible. I was very hopeful for a better future but unfortunately the Taliban came and destroyed everything.
The dark story of my life began from that night. My university was in another province. I lived in a hostel.
On that night, I was busy with my studies when I heard gunshots and there were a lot of scary noises, and it continued until the middle of the night. I didn't fall asleep that night. Early the next morning I was ready to go university, as usual, but suddenly our hostel’s door was opened, the gunmen came in, scary men, and they shouted at us, “Get out” with the horrible faces that I still have nightmares about. I had nowhere to go, and I just took my books and walked into the unknown place. The next day I arrived in our village. It also had collapsed by the hand of the Taliban and there was smoke and fire everywhere.
The Taliban group began their home-to-home search. I was afraid of the Taliban. That’s why I burned all my books. Those books were about philosophy and sociology, and it was very difficult for me to burn the books that were my life and which I believed would change our society and women’s situation one day.
Now there is no education. There are no women and girls in the libraries, schools, and coffee shops. The universities are closed, and women are deprived of education. The girls with thousands of dreams are imprisoned in their houses. Nowadays the Taliban force girls to go into forced marriages, especially with Taliban members, and if the families reject their marriage request, they harass them. The fear of forced marriage burns my bones every single moment.”
– G., December 2021
1. A who is sponsored to study in Afghanistan
2. S and N who are now at the AUW, Bangladesh, funded by New Hope/Omid Now's sponsorship donations
3. P who is sponsored to study in India