Afghan woman in black

Executive Statement: 9/11 – 20 Years Later

Mourning what we lost, remembering what we gained

This Saturday, September 11, 2021, America will commemorate those who lost their lives 20 years ago during a series of terrorist attacks on the United States. This year, the pain will be particularly acute when coupled with the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan and the resurgence of the Taliban – which once harbored Osama Bin Laden, the mastermind behind the 9/11 attacks.

Twenty years later, we’re able to reflect on the terrible toll the war has taken on us all. More than 70,000 members of the U.S., NATO, and Afghan armed forces lost their lives, along with close to 50,000 civilians caught in the crossfire. And, in August, when the last allied troops left Kabul, they diminished the hope of a free and democratic Afghanistan.

While the weight of this moment is heavy on our hearts, Central Asia Institute is also looking back on two decades of work in Afghanistan knowing that the seeds of hope and change that took root during this time were not in vain. There is an entire generation of educated Afghan women who have arisen in the past two decades – they are both proof and hope of what remains possible.  They will play a vital role in the future of Afghanistan.

In the past 20 years, enormous strides have been made in Afghan women’s and girls’ access to education, jobs, and political participation. Most notably, literacy rates among girls have doubled. According to a recent report, by 2018, an estimated 3.8 million girls were enrolled in primary school, a vast increase from the estimated 5,000 girls enrolled in 2001.

Since 2001, the number of female teachers had also grown to approximately one-third of the nation’s teachers, and we saw improvements in women’s participation in the Afghan Parliament, police, and the judiciary. There are also more women-run businesses and more women employed than there were 20 years ago. While surely not significant enough, these are nonetheless important milestones of progress.

In short, since 2001, millions of Afghan women and girls have been empowered to fulfill their dreams, reach their full potential, and contribute to a better, brighter future for themselves and their families. And while the U.S. may have lost its “longest war,” each life changed by education has been a victory. Even as we reflect on the past, we must not lose sight of the myriad challenges that lie ahead – and the role Afghan women will play in their solution.

It is true that Afghanistan’s women and girls face a dark future. Yet, as I write, women across Afghanistan are protesting the Taliban’s misogynistic rule that threatens to ban them from holding government office and entering workplaces, and could limit girls from getting anything beyond a  sixth-grade education. They are risking their lives, knowing that such protests have already been brutally repressed. But they have not been deterred.

This Saturday, as we mourn those we’ve lost and reflect on past mistakes and missteps, let us also look forward. The war came at a great cost. But because of the sacrifices that were made, an entire generation of women was educated. Both inside and outside of Afghanistan, education will empower Afghan women (and men) to fight for a better future for themselves and their families. In the darkest hour, they hold the promise for a better future.

36 responses to “Executive Statement: 9/11 – 20 Years Later”

    • Bob, we are also very afraid. But we are also determined to stand with our Afghan friends, especially the women and girls. We must support them in every way that we can. Thank you for standing with us and them. We’re so grateful for your support.

  1. I have followed and supported your work since the mid-1990s and will continue to do so where ever you are still able. I am retired military, having worked in intelligence beginning in the mid-1950’s, and have especially followed the progress of political change in Asia ever since. It is the work of non-government organizations such as CAI that will bring change to undeveloped and developing countries, not military intervention. Throughout history military intervention has almost always failed; note the invasions of North Korea and Vietnam since the end of WWII.

    • John, thank you for your service and for your kind words of support. Through your personal experiences and studies, you likely understand our mission and the challenges we face better than most people. We’re so appreciative of the trust that you’ve placed in us. We will strive to earn it again and again, every day. Thank you!

  2. May God bless you and your mission for girl’s education. A generation has already been educated in Afghanistan . I pray you and they never give up the fight.

    • Thank you, Betty Ann. The Afghan people are afraid, but they are not defeated. The seed of knowledge and hope has been planted. This generation of Afghans knows what it is like to pursue their dreams and live without fear of oppression. They are determined not to go back to the dark ages. And we will stand with them as long as we are able. Friends like you make that possible, so please accept our sincerest gratitude.

  3. I am heartbroken with the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan. I have supported CAI for years because I believe in the power of women’s education to change the world, but I am not as optimistic as I once was.

    • Barbara, I can’t thank you enough for your support over the last 13 years. Your generosity has changed so many lives for the better. And even in the face of such frightening events as the ones we’ve witnessed lately, we must not lose hope. If the people of Afghanistan still dare to dream and stand up for their rights, we must show them they are not alone. It may not be today. It may not be tomorrow. But light and love will always defeat darkness and hate. Have faith. Our work is not finished yet.

  4. Education always pays off… I’m glad you’ve been doing this and glad to have played a tiny part…
    Hope you can keep on to the extent that conditions permit…

    • Mike, your hopes mirror our own. We are determined to stand with our friends in Afghanistan for as long as possible. Your steadfast support over the last 12 years has played a huge part in our ability to provide support to our friends in Central Asia. We’re honored to have you as part of the CAI family. Thank you for standing with us. It means the world to us and our friends overseas.

    • Iris, our partners on the ground are very carefully implementing programs when and where they are able. We do have some programs moving forward at the moment – both education and emergency aid focused. The safety of our beneficiaries and the staff are our first priority. Consequently, programs will likely stop and start over the coming months as the situation evolves. We are monitoring the situation closely and we are in regular contact with our partners. We will do our best to keep you updated in the coming weeks.

  5. I have supported CAI since I read Three Cups of Tea. I firmly believe that a significant reason for hope and optimism is the education and participation of women and girls in all aspects of society. Certainly the history thus far has shown the error of patriarchy and its systems of superiority rule in the preservation of our very planet. I will continue to support CAI in my small way.

    • Sharon, your support is not small. It means so much to our staff and to our friends overseas. Thank you, truly! As you say, there is hope! Women are standing with men and fighting for their human rights together. Afghan women and girls (and boys and men) are incredibly brave. They haven’t given up. We can’t either!

    • Thank you for reaching out, Vern. Our partners on the ground are very carefully implementing programs when and where they are able. Both educational and emergency aid programs are being implemented, however, that may change at any moment given how volatile the situation is. Together with our partners, we’re looking for creative ways to continue providing support. Thank you for your support!

  6. I have been supporting CAI from the past many years and appreciate all that your organization is doing . I am from that part of the world and fully understand the value of education ( It is a game changer ). Pease be safe and keep up the good work .

    DR Nilofar Ali

    • Dr. Ali, we appreciate you and your faith in us. I completely agree that education is a game-changer. And even if our programs stop and start, knowledge is something that cannot be taken away from the thousands of children and adults who have benefited from our programs – programs that your support makes possible. I can’t thank you enough!

  7. I agree that it truly is the people who are living and working and helping on the ground like CAI that make a difference in the lives of women and girls. Thanks for never giving up hope for the Afghan people. I am privileged to be able to give a small amount of monetary help to such a big hearted group.

    • Gail, we’re privileged to have you as part of the CAI family. Thank you so much for your support and compassionate message. It energizes our staff and puts a smile on our face getting notes like that. Have a wonderful rest of your day!

  8. Thanks for what you are doing in Central Asia. I hope and trust that you are supporting local people, especially in Afghanistan. I will support you in the future when I have the means.

    • John, thank YOU. Your support and words of encouragement warm our hearts and make all the difference. Rest assured, we will do everything we can to support our friends in Afghanistan for as long as possible.

  9. I too want to keep hearing of the challenges & gains in Afghanistan & Pakistan. I’ve followed CAI since Three Cups of Tea & similar books. Education will always change a child’s future & expand their world. I’m so thankful you are changing little lives. I remember a quote where it was said, educate the girls & mothers so they will think differently about their boys leaving to fight.
    Please be safe & I’ll be praying for you all!🙏

    • Absolutely, Mary! We’ll do our best to keep you updated. Thank you for your kind message and your prayers.

  10. I have been a supporter of CAI for a while and believe deeply in what you have done. Like the other writers here, my heart is broken for the Afghan women and children and hope that the Taliban can be convinced by some in their ranks to change their approaches. So I’m wondering if your CAI people on the ground there have any negotiating capital with the Taliban which would permit continued schooling and female participation in their new government, even though there are not any present at the moment, according to what I read. With all the women protesting and the world watching, I wonder if the Taliban will really pursue the path they have taken in the past. Is there hope, and is there hope for CAI to still play a role there?

    • Ellen, thank you for your many years of support and for your belief in our mission. At the moment, things are not looking promising for female participation in the government. The Taliban have established an all-male interim government. Women have been protesting this. Some held placards declaring “No government can deny the presence of women,” but I am not optimistic that women will be included in the government in a meaningful way in the near future. I hope I am wrong. When it comes to education, I am more hopeful. Though the situation differs depending on the region of the country and the local Taliban in that region, women and girls have been allowed to go to school. Women at university have been allowed to attend class so long as they are separated from men, wear specific clothes, and are taught by a female teacher (or an older man with “good character”). It also appears girls will be permitted to go to school through at least grade 5. Of course, this could change at any time. Or Talibs in certain areas may not follow the orders of the Taliban leadership, and forbid girls and women their rights to education. Our staff and our partners on the ground are watching the situation closely. Our partners are locals, so they can read the situation very well. They’re looking for any opportunities to help the Afghan people, especially woman and girls. And as it is safe to do so, they will implement educational and emergency aid programs. While these programs may need to stop and start, we are all eager to advance our mission and work as long as possible. Thank you for coming with us on this journey and for standing with the Afghan people at this very dark time.

  11. So glad to hear you are aiming to continue your valuable work and only hope it will be possible under the new government. I am in awe of the courage of your local partners in their persistence and wish them the very best.

    • Suzanne, I completely agree. Our partners and the people they are serving are incredible. They know the risks and they still choose to fight for education and human rights. It is an honor to work with them. Thank you so much for your words of support!

  12. It is so very, very good to hear a response from you and CAI! Afghanistan Women are the World’s Heros!! Their fight amidst several plights will not be in vain. Light and Love/Caring will ALWAYS overcome anything in time. This appears not to be the time–but I believe it is “one” of the many times of taking very, very small baby steps, but nevertheless, surviving to gradually come back stronger. Regardless of governments, Hundreds of Thousands of Americans and others in other countries were horrified by the events of August, and hold our Afghanistan sisters and brothers in our hearts and prayers.

    • Sharon, well said! Light and love truly are the way forward and the only way to defeat this darkness. And thank you for your compassion. It’s so important that we let our friends in Afghanistan know that even though the troops have left, we are with them. They’re not alone!

  13. I am an active member of United Methodist Women who focus on the needs of Women, children and youth so I am very happy (in a small way) to support your work for education of women and girls. Thank you for all you are doing. I believe the phrase “educate a girl and you change the world”. Keep up the good work!

    • Thank you for all of your work in support of women and children, Judith! They’re lucky to have you as their champion!

  14. Peace through education. What a concept! I was hooked! Thank you to you and your Afghan partners for your tireless efforts in bringing a generation of Afghan women and girls the real power, knowledge. The seed has been planted and they will never go back. More than ever there is something for all of them to fight for. As we’ve seen in our own country, progress can be slow. It ebbs and flows but there is progress. As long as we continue to shine a light in the darkness, there is hope. I pray for all at CAI and all our Afghan brothers and sisters.

    SEPTEMBER 11, 2001

    We remember the events of this terrible day in America 20 years ago. We remember those who never made it home that night and we remember those who were at home waiting for them. As a small gesture of honor and respect, I will keep my home’s outside light on through the darkness of the night as a symbol of hope. God Bless America.

    • Thank YOU, Kathleen! You sum it up exactly … “As long as we continue to shine a light in the darkness, there is hope.” And your accompanying gesture is a beautiful one.

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