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Speaker Highlight: Meet Pashtana Durrani, Founder & Director of LEARN Afghanistan

Updated: Jun 9, 2022

Interview by: Monserrat Contreras G.

Pashtana Durrani started her journey as an activist and human rights defender. She is now a Community development expert. Focusing on Digital literacy, SRHR, MHM, and WASH. She is the founder and Director of grassroots-level non-profit LEARN Afghanistan. Through LEARN's project Soraya, she has educated 900 girls and boys in Kandahar. Through Project Ayesha Durrani, she has trained more than 80 teachers in digital literacy. Through LEARN's Project Malalai, Durrani has reached out to 150 girls and trained them in Menstrual Hygiene Management.

Pashtana received the Malala Fund Education champion award and received a development Fellowship on sexual and reproductive healthcare from Aspens Institute. She is an International member's youth representative for Amnesty International. She is a Board member of the UNDP GEF steering committee. She contributes to national newspapers like Afghanistan times and Kabul times.

1. Could you tell us more about yourself? How was your life when you were younger (10-15years)?

From 10-15 years old, my life was all about school learning and going to classes coming home studying all day night. I was a very studious person so I had a lot to do but I definitely started a lot so my life revolved around studying.

2. What inspired you to pursue this career path?

I guess it was unconsciously in my head that we have to focus on education but at the same time my father who had worked in education inspired me.

Also, from what I have seen in the past, we have met Afghan women who have done amazing jobs; I just wanted to be able to make sure that I'm doing my part and choosing a career path that helps people.

3. What was the biggest challenge for you in your career?

My biggest challenge was definitely getting judged coming back to Afghanistan and the fitting game was definitely a problem. The fact that they didn't come from a best, it made a problem for them and because they couldn't accept an Afghan girl who was not privileged but was of course just a definite person who came back and who tried helping and that was something that was a challenge for them to accept because in their head everybody who comes from the west is someone who will be able to help.

But at the same time, the government and the people in authority have always been a challenge.

4. Could you tell us any story of the women you’ve spoken about that stands out to you?

For me, Malala, if she's a definite inspiration she has worked in the past 20 years she the principal she has educated thousands of girls and she stands tall she has always been standing tall she inspires me because of the way she speaks and she's even doing right now whatever she is just love her for the fact that she has that sort of order to herself that “why” which everybody needs.

5. How are fellow activists being treated with everything that is happening?

To be honest, the majority of them have fled so I don't know. The ones who haven't fled are men with connections with the Taliban and I don't like showing, or people who already have some sort of like in a letter from them so they're not being bothered. But female activists that I know of have fled, t have left, and don't have any place to go to.

6. What was the vision you had while creating LEARN Afghanistan?

The vision was simple when I was creating LEARN, make sure that we fill in the gaps that we are in the education system and we fill it with the most energy so that we don't forget where we stand and what we stand for and you don't just become a project.

7. As someone who has devoted your life to educating women and girls in Afghanistan, what are you feeling right now?

I have mixed parts. I have my own classes that are burdening me right now. I have problems that I don’t speak of and it’s taking a lot of mental toll on me and of course, bothering me, but it is what it is and I have to fight back.

8. How do you see yourself in the near future?

I am supposed to be studying and I will continue my studies no matter where. I will also continue my work even if it's remotely or like you know through channeling it but I’ll continue to do whatever I have done in the past and I'll do it in the future

9. Pashtana, you have been an outspoken advocate for women's rights and empowerment, and education in the Taliban. Does that make you a target?

I don't know if I am a target or not. I was at I get back in the day by the government so I don't know where I stand with this one but it definitely makes you question because there are different entities within the Taliban I believe in activism or women or women talking. I cannot say for the whole Taliban but there are definitely factions who don't like people like me and definitely put me on a target list.

10. What advice would you give today’s young people, women, and men?

I think the best advice I can give them is if they are making something and they are uncertain about it I think the best thing they can do is stick to it because whatever they do nobody else can do it like they want to, nobody else is going to wake up the whole night to continue working on that they are dedicated to, so the best thing you can do is focus on your own projects your own entrepreneur life or ideas and continue with advocacy, the first years might be of a struggle but at the end of the day you mark some people and you make an impact.

11. What can the international community do to support Afghan women at this moment?

The International Community can definitely support Afghan women by making sure that they are included in International platforms to talk and pressure the Taliban and make them except and also and most importantly the international community should be focusing on not driving the country into a humanitarian crisis because everybody's starving and at the end of the day we are humans first and then genders are applied. So that's the first thing that the International Community can focus on and of course, the second thing would be opening the schools by pressuring the Taliban into opening the schools.

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