Women on the Rise in Afghanistan ~ Lesson Activities

October 1, 2011


1. Let students know that today’s lesson will focus on advances made by women in Afghanistan, as well as the obstacles and dangers they face. Ask students to think of rights all men and women have in the United States today. (The right to attend school, vote, free speech, freedom of religion, etc.)


2. Ask students to locate Afghanistan on a map and to discuss what they know about the country and its people. Write their answers on a list for the students to see. Encourage students to share what they know about Afghanistan and the rights of women in the country. (Possible things to include on the list: Islam is the main religion; Women do not have the same rights as men; US soldiers are serving in Afghanistan.)


3. Explain that you will now be showing a segment from the episode “Peace Unveiled” in the series Women, War & Peace, a program which focuses on the impact of war on women and the role of women during war and in helping to bring about peace. Let students know that this excerpt highlights the actions of two Afghan women, Hasina Safi and Shahida Hussein, to help other women in need in their country. As students view the segment, ask them to find out current dangers faced by women in Afghanistan and actions that Safi and Hussein are taking to empower Afghan women.


4. Play the clip “Women in Afghanistan Today.”  (Access the video segments for this lesson at the Video Segments Page.)  After showing the segment, ask students to describe efforts that Hasina Safi and other members of the Afghan Women’s Network are conducting to help Afghan women. (They conduct programs for illiterate women.) Discuss the obstacles that Safi and her colleagues face. (They have received letters telling them to stop teaching and threatening violence against them and their families.)


5. Ask students what percentage of women in Afghanistan are literate, based on information presented in the segment. (The segment mentions that about 90% of women are illiterate, meaning that about 10% are literate. According to a July, 2011 estimate, the actual percentage of women who are literate in Afghanistan is about 12.6%.)


6. Discuss how Shahida Hussein, the woman’s rights activist featured in the video, helps women in Kandahar. (She listens to their problems and then meets with judges, court officials, provincial council leaders and others on behalf of the women.) Discuss dangers faced by women in Kandahar. (Working women in Kandahar are being assassinated. When women go out in public they are fearful of being shot. The women feel powerless and don’t feel like the government is listening to them. Corruption is prevalent.)


7. Discuss some of the current rights that women in Afghanistan have which they didn’t have under Taliban rule. (They can appear in public in many places without burqas, girls can attend school and women can work. Women have access to health care, the right to vote and the right to 25% of seats in parliament.)



1. Explain that the next segment describes women’s lives under the Taliban regime. Ask students to describe the Taliban. (The Taliban is an extreme militia group which took control of the government of Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001 and led a totalitarian dictatorship that deprived Afghan women of basic human rights.)


2. Ask students to take notes about what life was like for women during Taliban rule and steps Afghan women took to assure a place in the peace process in Afghanistan.


3. Play the clip “Life During and After Taliban Rule.”  (Access the video segments for this lesson at the Video Segments Page.)  After showing the segment, ask students to discuss what life was like for women during Taliban rule. (Women were imprisoned in their homes and were not allowed to go to work or school. They could not go to a doctor without a male relative. Women were not allowed to show their hands or faces in public and could be beaten if they did. They could be publicly executed for committing adultery or disobeying other Taliban rules.)


4. Compare and contrast the life of women under Taliban rule to the life of women in Afghanistan today. Discuss rights that women currently have that they didn’t have under Taliban rule.


5. Ask students to describe the actions Shinkai Karokhail and others took to assure women played a part in the peace process. (They advocated for the inclusion of more women at the peace jirga [assembly] being held by President Karzai. US Secretary of State, Hilary Clinton pressured Karzai to include more women in the jirga and was able to secure 20% of the spots for women. The jirga was the first time Afghan women had been present at peace talks with Afghan men.)


6. Ask students to discuss why Shinkai Karokhail and the women of the Afghan Women’s Network felt it was critical to have as many women as possible participate in the jirga. (To assure that women’s rights were not sacrificed by religious conservatives participating in the jirga.)


7. Explain that the next segment highlights efforts that Afghan women took to assure that they had a voice in the government and the peace process. Ask students to write down actions the women took to assure that they had a voice in the process.


8. Play “Fighting to be Heard.”  (Access the video segments for this lesson at the Video Segments Page.)  After showing the clip, ask students to discuss actions the women took to assure they had a voice in the peace process. (They lobbied the international community to get women included in the Kabul Peace Conference. They met with Ambassador Karl Eikenberry and were able to get permission to send a representative to make a 3-minute presentation at the conference.)


9. Discuss the message that Palwasha Hassan delivered at the conference and the significance of her being included in the conference. (She stressed the fact that human rights must be preserved, as political and security strategies are implemented. In order for there to be peace, everyone in society must be protected. Women’s rights and achievements must not be compromised in any peace negotiations or peace agreement and women’s experiences of war and peace building must be recognized in the peace process. Hassan is the first Afghan woman ever to address the world from an Afghan stage.)


10. Discuss the impact Hassan’s comments had on the final outcome of the conference. (Neither the US or the international community stipulated that women must take part in rebuilding Afghanistan.)


11. Explain that you will now be showing a final clip from Women, War & Peace: “Peace Unveiled.” Ask students to find out how the women feel about getting support from the US and the international community, as well as the efforts the US is taking to support the women of Afghanistan.


12. Play “Supporting the Women of Afghanistan.”  (Access the video segments for this lesson at the Video Segments Page.)  After showing the clip, ask students to share information presented in the video.

Information presented in the segment:

  • The women of Afghanistan want more support from the international community.
  • US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton sent Ambassador Melanne Verveer (the first US Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues) to Afghanistan to secure spots for women in Karzhai’s high peace council. The women were given only 9 of the 70 seats (approx. 12.9%) on Karzai’s peace council, which was less than they had hoped for. Warlords and religious conservatives dominate the council.
  • The UN Security Council adopted a resolution on October 31, 2000 to urge all countries to include women in all conflict resolutions, but women are not present in most peace talks around the world.

Secretary Clinton tells the UN Security Council that it is essential that the rights of women in Afghanistan not be sacrificed as part of the peace process.



1. Divide the class into five groups. Assign each group to one of the following topics:

  • History of Afghanistan
  • Afghan Culture
  • The Taliban
  • The rights of Women under Islam
  • Hamid Karzai

[Note: This will be conducted as a “jigsaw”-style activity, where each group first learns about one topic and then the members of each group meet with members from the other groups to exchange information.]


2. Ask students to access the Women, War & Peace: “Peace Unveiled” Discussion Guide. Note: If students do not have access to computers during the lesson, distribute printouts of pages from the guide to the students.


3. Ask each group to read the section of the guide that contains information about their assigned topic. (If you are using printouts, give each group the page that corresponds to its assigned topic: Page 4- “History of Afghanistan”; Page 5- “Understanding Afghan Culture” and “The Taliban: Their Origins and Goals”; Page 6- “Rights of Women under Islam” and “Hamid Karzai.”)


4. Ask students to write a brief summary of their assigned article in the “Facts about Afghanistan” student organizer.


5. After each group has conducted its research, mix up the groups so that at least one student from each of the original 5 groups is represented in each of the new groups. (For example, there should be students who read about the history of Afghanistan, Afghan culture, the Taliban, the rights of women under Islam and Hamid Karzai in each group.)


6. Ask group members to share information they learned from their articles with the members of their new groups. Ask students to complete their “Facts about Afghanistan” student organizer based on the information they receive from their classmates. At the end of the discussion all students should have all the rows filled in on their organizer.


7. Ask students to discuss some of the new facts they learned about Afghanistan (including the Taliban and Hamid Karzai), Islam and the rights of women.



1. Lead a discussion about the ways in which Hasina Safi, Shahida Hussein, Shinkai Karokhail are making a positive difference in the lives of Afghan women.


2. Ask each student or group of students to conduct research about the roles women have played in advocating for human rights and/or participating in peace building efforts in a country other than Afghanistan. Some possible countries/regions to include are: Rwanda, Nigeria, Iraq, Pacific Islands, New Zealand, Somalia, United Kingdom, United States. (See the “Websites” section in the Lesson Overview for website suggestions for this activity.)


3. Ask students to present their findings to the class.


4. As a final activity, ask each student to write a reflection essay about one of the following quotes (said by people in different contexts and time periods) and apply it to themes and information presented in this lesson:

  • “The education and empowerment of women throughout the world cannot fail to result in a more caring, tolerant, just and peaceful life for all.” -Aung San Suu Kyi (1945 – ), Daw Burmese-Myanmarese dissident and politician; Leader of National League for Democracy, Nobel Peace Prize laureate.
  • “There is no development strategy more beneficial to society as a whole – women and men alike – than the one which involves women as central players.” -Kofi Annan, Seventh secretary-general of the United Nations, 2001 Nobel Peace Prize.
  • “Everybody counts in applying democracy. And there will never be a true democracy until every responsible and law-abiding adult in it, without regard to race, sex, color or creed has his or her own inalienable and unpurchasable voice in government.” –Carrie Chapman Catt, Women’s Suffrage Leader.
  • “Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable… Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals.” -Martin Luther King, Jr.


  • “Lasting change is a series of compromises. And compromise is all right, as long your values don’t change.” –Jane Goodall, Primatologist.


5. Ask students to share their reflections with the class.