Books for kids and adults about the lives of women and girls under Taliban rule - and how you can help Afghan girls and women today.
After the Taliban's swift takeover of Afghanistan, culminating in the fall of Kabul to these brutal extremists this week, Afghan girls and women are facing a terrifying future with the likely return of laws requiring that all women cover themselves in burqas and restrict their freedom of movement, education bans on girls, and forced marriage and rape. Shamsia Hassani, Afghanistan's first female graffiti artist, shared a powerful painting entitled "Nightmare, Afghanistan 2021" that captures the grief and fear of Afghan women, reminding everyone that Afghan women's precious freedoms – all too recently kindled – are being brutally snuffed out.
To understand why Afghan women are so horrified at the return of the Taliban to power, it's important to remember the harsh reality of what life was like for girls and women during the last period of Taliban rule from 1996 to 2001 and the widespread progress that has been made on girls' education and women's rights over the past twenty years.
In this blog post, we've featured a selection of books, both fiction and biographical, for children and adults about the lives of girls and women both during the period of Taliban oppression and the years of rebuilding after. Their protagonists are girls and women who dream of a future where they can raise their voices and pursue their dreams, without fear of reprisal. These titles remind us that we cannot abandon our Afghan sisters: we must continue to support their fight for freedom. To that end, we've also recommended two concrete ways that you can help those Afghan girls and women most at risk today.
How to Help Afghan Girls and Women Today
For those heartsick and angered by the devastating news out of Afghanistan, here are two ways you can help girls and women during these dire times:
Women for Afghan Women: This non-profit organization has been fighting for the rights of Afghan women for 20 years. Today, they are trying to help the women's rights activists they work with throughout the country who are in extreme danger from the Taliban. To support their critical work, you can make a donation here.
Razia's Ray of Hope Foundation: The Foundation has been educating girls and women in Afghanistan for 13 years. Their founder Razia Jan is seeking support to help the school accommodate the many new girls who have been displaced to their region in recent weeks and to support the staff and students through the current instability. You can make a contribution to their essential work here.
CARE: One of the world's largest humanitarian aid organizations, CARE has a long history of helping people in Afghanistan. In recent weeks, there has been a huge increase in the demand for emergency aid as many families have fled the Taliban. You can support their work in Afghanistan with a donation here.
Books About Girls' and Women's Lives Under Taliban Oppression
When the Taliban soldiers arrived in Herat, Afghanistan, art, music, and learning disappeared... and so did Nasreen's parents. Now, in the care of her loving grandmother, Nasreen refuses to speak, traumatized by the loss. To help her granddaughter, the grandmother enrolls Nasreen in a secret school for girls run out of a private home — even though she knows how dangerous that could be. There, with the help of a caring teacher, new friends, and the power of the written word, Nasreen learns about the potential for a brighter future... as long as she has hope. Based on a true story, this touching picture book by renowned creator Jeanette Winter is a powerful illustration of the power of education to transform girls' lives and the healing power of love.
After Obayda's father was injured in a bomb blast in Kabul, the family is forced to move to a small village — and they could use some good fortune. Her aunt has an idea that she says could help: Obayda could become a bacha posh, a prepubescent girl living as a boy. As Obayd, with a short haircut and boys' clothing, she tastes all the privileges of a boy — going to school, skipping chores, and even eating meat at meals — and she meets another bacha posh who becomes a fast friend. But there's a time limit on their transformation: once they go through puberty, they'll have to be girls again... unless they can find a way to hold on to their newfound freedom. Nadia Hashimi, author of The Pearl That Broke Its Shell, shines in her first book for young readers which explores this unique tradition and the marks it leaves on the girls who have a taste of freedom for a few precious years.
Freshta Tori Jan had two strikes against her in Afghanistan under the rule of the Taliban, an Islamic fundamentalist regime: she was a girl and she was part of an ethnic minority. Her whole family faced potential kidnapping or even murder attempts on a daily basis, wherever they went — and lost many friends to the same. Her school was even shut down by the Taliban. But Freshta was determined not to lose her voice. Today she's become a community activist and a public speaker advocating for marginalized groups. In this book from the propulsive middle grade non-fiction series I, Witness, with black and white spot art and compelling details about life under the Taliban, this is a powerful exploration of Freshta's journey from persecution to activism.
For the first time, the first three of Deborah Ellis's award-winning The Breadwinner books are available in a single volume! When the Taliban arrest her father because of his education, it’s up to 11-year old Parvana to provide for her family. In the first book of a trilogy about Parvana’s life, Ellis explores the dangers and frustrations of living under Taliban rule in Afghanistan through the eyes of the brave Parvana, who must disguise herself as a boy to survive. This award-winning, coming-of-age story features a cast of strong, literate female role models and is driven by Parvana’s courage and love for her family despite living in a world of war and oppression. The story concludes after the trilogy in one final volume, My Name Is Parvana.
Growing up in Afghanistan, author Homeira Qaderi's grandmother once told her "a girl should have fear in her eyes" — but her parents secretly helped her get an education, even when that meant burying books in the backyard so they wouldn't be discovered by the Taliban. As a 13-year-old, Qaderi became a secret teacher for younger girls and, as an adult, she fought for women's rights. But when she refused to accept her husband's desire to marry a second wife, he divorced her via a three-word text message reading ‘divorce, divorce, divorce’ — and took 19-month-old son, Siawash, away from her. This searing new memoir is her story as she would wish her son to hear it, full of her reflections about love, sacrifice, and survival and all of the soul-crushing choices she was forced to make as a woman in Afghanistan.
With so many images of turmoil in the news, it's easy to forget that there was a time that Kabul, Afghanistan was peaceful and prosperous. Enjeela Ahmadi was born during that time of peace, in a loving, connected family. But unrest was rising, and her mother had to leave for medical treatment in India — just before the civil war exploded and the Soviets invaded in 1980. Suddenly, Enjeela and her family have to face the reality that her mother is not coming home: if they want to reunite with her, they will have to escape. This is the story of that five-year journey, full of the brutalities of war and the shocking realization that the country they know has been changed forever. This tense and emotional book is a reminder of the decades of broken families that Afghanistan's turmoil has created.
Young Kamila Sidiqi faced many obstacles as a woman in Afghanistan, but she was able to earn a teaching degree despite the disruptions of the civil war. But when the Taliban seized Kabul in 1995, her life changed overnight. Suddenly, she was banned from her school and confined at home — and when her father and brother were targeted by the insurgents and had to flee, she became the only breadwinner for five siblings. Determined to survive, she started a dressmaking business. Despite threats, beatings, and even imprisonment, she kept working, and her business slowly grew, first employing her sisters, and then providing work and training for other neighborhood women in desperate circumstances. This true story of resilience and sisterhood is a testament to the power of the human spirit.
A girl in conservative Afghan culture faces discrimination and a deeply restrictive culture... unless she makes use of a surprising tradition and chooses to be a bacha posh, a prepubescent girl who dresses and lives as a boy until she reaches marriageable age. As a bacha posh, she enjoys all the freedom of a boy her age: she can walk unaccompanied, she can work, and she can even take a boys' name. And then, when puberty hits, she must change back, and return to the confined life of a girl. Jenny Nordberg broke the story of this unique "third sex" in the New York Times; now, she explains this phenomenon through the stories of several bacha posh, exploring what it is like to live as a boy and what happens afterwards. This is a powerful and thought-provoking look at those secretly living on the other side of a society where women have almost no rights and little freedom.
Mariam was the daughter of an unwed mother who committed suicide; at 15, she is married off to 40-year-old Rasheed, who brutally abuses her, especially after she loses several pregnancies to miscarriage. His cruel attitudes to women become the norm when the Taliban take control of Afghanistan shortly afterwards, and Mariam resolves to keep her head down and just survive. Twenty years later, Rasheed takes in 14-year-old Laila, whose parents were killed by stray bombs, and soon he turns violent with her as well. The two women, thrown together by war and loss, develop a quiet friendship, and when an opportunity arises for Laila to discover a chance at happiness, that bond will make all the difference. Kahled Hosseini's exquisite and heart-wrenching novel captures the difficult choices and enormous sacrifices Afghan women had to make in hopes that the girls they knew would have a better future.
Books About Girls' and Women's Lives During The Rebuilding Period
Today, Pari got up before dawn to join her Mama on the library bus. Mama brings books to the refugee camps, and teaches the girls there to read and write in English. It's not long ago, she tells Pari, that girls weren't allowed to study: Mama herself only learned to read because her father, Pari's grandfather, taught her at home. Now, girls like Pari — and the girls at the refugee camps — no longer have to fear people finding out they go to school. "Study hard [and] never stop learning," Mama tells her. "Then you will be free." Written by an Afghan refugee, and inspired by the memory of his own sister being forbidden to learn, this is a celebration of literacy and of the power of educating girls and women.
Afghani schoolgirl Aria is thrilled to be back in class after her accident, but she's dismayed when sitting on the floor with her prosthetic "helper-leg" causes her so much pain that she can't concentrate. Before the war, she knows that schools had benches; if she could sit on a bench, her leg wouldn't hurt. So she talks to a carpenter in the old city — despite skepticism from the other girls who say carpentry is for boys — and asks him to teach her. He gives her tools, and a can of sky-blue paint, the color of "courage, peace and… wisdom." And with help, Aria builds her bench, and reminds everyone that "We can build everything we need, together!" Bahram Rahman, author of The Library Bus, includes an author's note about the impact of unexploded landmines on children around the world in his poignant and optimistic story about a girl determined to overcome every obstacle to her education.
Growing up in refugee camps in Iran and Pakistan, Malalai Joya dreamed of helping people in her home country of Afghanistan. She began by teaching in secret girls' schools, and founding a free medical clinic and orphanage. But that wasn't enough: Afghanistan's leaders needed to change. In 2003, at only 25 years of age, she stood up at a constitutional assembly and defied the NATO-backed warlords; two years later, she became the youngest person elected to Afghanistan's new Parliament. And two years after that, she was suspended from Parliament because of her ongoing criticism of the warlords and those who support them. This powerful account of both acts of rebellion and the courage it takes to change a nation celebrates one of modern Afghanistan's heroic women.
Shannon Galpin found confidence and courage on the seat of her bike — and now, her nonprofit Mountain2Mountain does the same for girls and women in Afghanistan! After becoming the first woman to ride a mountain bike in the wartorn country, she used that bike ride to raise social awareness — and encourage people to try out a bike themselves. As her influence grew, she worked with politicians and journalists, teachers and prison inmates. Her goal? To ensure that women in Afghanistan have the ability and confidence to raise their voices and seek justice, whatever form that takes. This memoir will inspire readers with the power of two wheels to drive social change.
In Afghanistan in 2007, with her father addicted to drugs and no brothers to support the family, Rahima takes on the life of a boy in the tradition of the bacha posh. Until she comes of age, she can have all the freedoms of a son, including the right to work and to escort her mother and sisters in public. But Rahima is not the first in her family to take on a man's identity: a hundred years earlier, her great-great-grandmother, Shekiba, built herself a new life in the same way. Nadia Hashimi's haunting novel interweaves the story of these two women, capturing the strange contradiction of two women who are told they are powerless, yet find the freedom to control their own fate. For two more eye-opening books by Hashimi about Afghan women, we recommend A House Without Windows and Sparks Like Stars.
As the nineteenth daughter of the family, Fawzia Koofi was left by her mother to die in the sun as an infant, but she survived. Despite her abusive family, the brutal Russian and Taliban regimes, numerous attempts on her own life, and the murders of her father, brother, and husband, she was determined to change her country — and she rose to become the first female Afghani Parliament speaker. With painful honesty she tells her story, interspersed with letters she wrote to her own daughters before each political trip. This is not just her personal story, but the story of her dream of the Afghanistan of the future: one where her daughters, and all women, will be truly free.