Sofia logs in to class on a laptop in Kabul for an online English course run by one of a growing number of educa-tional institutes trying to reach Afghanistan’s girls and women digitally in their homes.
But when the teacher calls on Sofia to read a passage her computer screen freezes.
“Can you hear me?” she asks repeatedly, checking her connection. After a while, her computer stutters back to life. “As usual,” a fellow student equally frustrated with the poor communication sighs as the class gets going again. Sofia, 22, is one of a growing stream of Afghan girls and women going online as a last resort to get around the Taliban administration’s restrictions on studying and working.
Taliban officials, citing what they call problems including issues related to Islamic dress, have closed girls’ high schools, barred their access to universities and stopped most women from working at non-governmental organisa-tions.
One of the most striking changes since the Taliban were first in power from 1996 to 2001, is the explosion of the internet.
Virtually no one had access to the internet when the Taliban were forced from power in the weeks after September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States.
After nearly two decades of Western-led intervention and engagement with the world, 18% of the population had internet access, according to the World Bank.
The Taliban administration has allowed girls to study individually at home and has not moved to ban the internet, which its officials use to make announcements via social media.
But girls and women face a host of problems from power cuts, to cripplingly slow internet speeds, let alone the cost of computers and wifi in a country where 97% of people live in poverty.—Agencies