One by one, the women stood up to read in the small mud-walled classroom in Kabul. Their pride in their accomplishment was palpable, the tears in my eyes overflowing. I had been working in Afghanistan for two weeks when I asked my interpreter to help me find a literacy class for women. I had photographed hundreds of young girls attending classes, but what of the generation of women who had been denied education?
Some 80 percent of Afghan women over age 15 cannot read or write, according to UNESCO. That's one of the worst literacy rates in the world. During the Taliban's five-year rule, women had been restricted to their homes, but the traditional Afghan culture also played a role. An Afghan woman's responsibility is family life, and that responsibility generally hasn't allowed for schooling outside the home.
My interpreter and I visited a learning center founded by Shukria Barakzai Dawi, a courageous, educated woman who defied the Taliban by secretly teaching other women. Now their education continues in the open.
What a joy to photograph these women, mothers in their 20s and 30s, reading - at last!