By M. Mursal
Sotooda Forotan, the Afghan teenager who shot to global fame for demanding the Taliban re-open school for girls, has been taken out of school for her own safety, her father told Rukhshana Media.
Fifteen-year-old Forotan’s bravery and passion for her education earned her a spot on the Financial Times’ 25 most influential women of 2021, published at the start of December. Nobel peace prize laureate and girls’ education campaigner Malala Yousufzai wrote the piece after speaking to Forotan.
But her overnight fame, including across Afghanistan, has also earned her unwanted attention from those opposing her views on women’s education.
“As a preventative measure, I stopped her from going to school, at least for a while,” her father, Ehsan Forotan, told Rukhshana Media in a phone interview in early December, adding that the family has since temporarily moved out of their home in Herat in western Afghanistan after receiving threatening phone calls.
“We left our home in the middle of the night when someone called and said they would kill us in front of my daughter. We don’t know who is threatening us, because there are many [insurgency] networks active in the country,” he added.
“Sotooda is so worried. [She says] ‘I opened the doors of schools, but I deprived my sister and my mother of the right to live.’ And we are worried for her,” Forotan said.
According to her father, Sotooda must now go out in disguise, fearing she might be targeted for raising her voice for girls and women’s right to education. Sotooda shared several photos of herself with Rukhshana Media, showing her wearing a black veil and large sunglasses so she will not be recognized.
In early November, Rukhshana Media interviewed the high school student after she stood up to the Taliban and asked them to re-open girls’ schools on October 21, at the Taliban’s celebration of Prophet Mohammad’s birthday.
“Today, as a representative of girls, I want to deliver a message that is in our hearts. We all know that Herat is a city of knowledge… why should the schools be closed to girls?” she said to an audience of around 200, including some provincial Taliban officials at the historical place of Herat.
Weeks later the Taliban announced that teenage girls in grades 7 to 12 can return to school in Herat. But less than 10 days later, the Taliban ordered schools not to allow the teenage girls to take part in the final exam, according to the school principals and directors. But in some schools, including private ones, teenage girls still attend classes.
After Rukhshana Media’s story was published, Malala Yousufzai’s team asked to be connected with Sotooda. With Sotooda’s and her parents’ permission, Rukhshana Media put them in contact.
“Rukhshana Media helped me get closer to my dreams,” Sotooda said in an interview in early December.
Sotooda says she can’t forget the moment she saw her father’s cries of joy after she broke the news that she made it into the Financial Times’ list of most influential women of the year.
Sotooda’s father, who supported her daughter’s passion for education and advocacy for women and children’s rights, said he will continue to stand behind her daughter.
“Now that [she can’t go to school], she is like a canary that is stuck in a cage,” he said.