The Taliban are an ultraconservative political and religious faction that emerged in Afghanistan in the mid-1990s following the withdrawal of Soviet troops and the collapse of Afghanistan’s communist regime. During their disaster rule from 1996-2001, they implemented many oppressive rulings such as banning most women and young girls from work or education. Unfortunately, parts of history are repeated once more.
On Aug 6th, 2021, the first provincial capital fell to the Taliban.
On Aug 15th, 2021, the Taliban took control of the whole country of Afghanistan
On Aug 24th, 2021, reports surfaced that the Taliban had ordered most women to stay at home because their security forces weren’t ‘equipped to deal with women’.
On Sept 17th, 2021, the Taliban Education Ministry banned girls and female teachers from returning to secondary school but let education reopen for boys and male teachers.
On Mar 23rd, 2022, the Taliban announced that schools would likely reopen for girls on this day. So, eager female students returned to schools as promised but instead of textbooks and lectures, they were met with guns at the school gates.
On Mar 23rd, 2021, the Taliban have now banned girls from attending school beyond the sixth grade.
On May 7th, 2022, Taliban officials announced that women and girls would be expected to stay home, and if they were to venture out of the home they were expected to wear the burqa which would leave women completely unseen.
On Jul 16th, 2022, Most women remain banned from going to work. Only a few women are allowed to work in healthcare or education and only in a gender-segregated environment.
This is the only country in the world where women’s education has been forcibly prohibited.
First Cry. “So much pain & grief for the women of my country, my heart is exploding,” tweeted Shaharzad Akbar, the former head of a prominent Afghan human rights group, who now lives in exile.
Second Cry. Yalda Hakim, an Afghani Correspondent for BBC World News, spoke to Human Rights Watch. “I am very much aware of the fact that had my parents not left Afghanistan, I too, like millions of Afghan girls and women in the country could have been denied the right to an education.”
Third Cry. “Why do you think education is so important?”
Sahar Fetrat, an award-winning documentary filmmaker and researcher with the HRW, responded, “Education is a significant and basic right. In 2022, we shouldn’t be talking about why education matters. However, here we are. For a nation with the world’s highest illiteracy rate, education will always be a dream and a thirst.
As of Jul 15th. 2022, it has been 300 days since girls’ schools closed. Sharifa, a ninth-grade student interviewed by DW documentary, was top of her class from third through ninth grade. “When I see my school books, notes, and meet my classmates, we all remember the good days. But when I see that we are not allowed to enter school, it breaks my heart. With this situation, we have lost hope and our future is dark and very painful.”
Sharifa still holds out hope that education for girls can continue. “After every sundown, there is a hope for a new tomorrow, and that means that we shouldn’t lose hope,” she says inspiringly.
When the Taliban took control in August, there were hopes that the Taliban had changed for the better. They suggested that women could go back to work or girls could return to education. But the August 2021 decision prohibited girls from returning to school and drew parallels to eerily familiar tactics the Taliban utilized in the 1990s. Some claim it is proof that they haven’t changed at all and are luring others into a false sense of security.
One female student (whose name must be hidden) was interviewed by the Guardian and said, “I don’t believe the Taliban (in regards to their assurances)…I had a plan to accelerate my studies and take more classes. I went to the gym after university. I had a plan to launch a small business for myself in Kabul, but everything vanished in a matter of hours. Words cannot describe my current depression.”
Thousands of girls are fearful for the future of their education. Even if girls’ education reopened immediately, their studies, preparation for exams, graduation plans, and university applications have already suffered a severe setback.
Roya, 18, who talked in an interview in a Human Rights Watch article was preparing for university admission exams. “I’ve always dreamed of being a lawyer and had been preparing to get into law school,” she says, “But now with the Taliban taking over I don’t think I have a future.”
According to an analysis by the Education Cluster, Save the Children, and the UN Children’s Fund, about 850,000 out of 1.1 million secondary school girls are not attending classes.
In light of the education ban, secret schools have popped up over Afghanistan to make up for the lack of educational opportunities. An NPR article focuses on ten teenage girls attending a makeshift school in secret. Girls here learn English as well as other subjects they would learn in grade school. Nazanin, one of the teachers, teaches grades seven and eight as well as art. Her family helped transform a spare room in their house into a classroom. Her grandmother donated a rug and a friend handed over textbooks.
Nazanin told NPR, “When the Taliban said girls can’t go to secondary school anymore, I thought to myself, ‘what can I do?… How can I raise the morale of the girls around me?”
Teachers who have either been prohibited from returning from work or haven’t been paid in months or weeks, volunteer to teach girls at these schools, often risking their own lives in the process.
One teacher, 34-year-old Zainab, runs a tutoring centre in a basement in Kabul. She teaches courses preparing girls for college admissions but it’s unseen whether new female students will be allowed to attend college.
One student at the centre, Sahar, is meant to be in grade 11. Sahar has said, “I’ve always wanted to be a doctor and until the Taliban took over, I was getting top marks. Now I’ve got no chance.” Sahar said that she and her mother cry sometimes because their future is so dark.
There are exceptions to the ban on girls’ education. In a handful of provinces, where community leaders, typically men, support allowing girls to go to school. According to a previous analysis mentioned in this article (Save the Children, UNICEF, and Education Cluster), eight provinces continued providing secondary education to girls but the results are mixed. Some districts in those eight provinces allow girls’ education while some have facilities that provide gender-segregated studies.
Heather Barr, a Human Rights Watch employee who tracks violations against Afghani women, says, “The fact that people have found all of these different ways to try to work around the Taliban ban is an indication of how desperately people want education for themselves, for their daughters, for the…girls in their families.”
People who have not been exposed to Islam will see headlines outlining the Taliban’s brutal oppression and believe that these are true Islamic values when that couldn’t be further from the truth. Islamophobia towards Muslims could increase.
While the Taliban may justify their brutal principles on Islamic beliefs, Muslim scholars and activists say gender-based denial of education has no religious justification. Education and literacy are highly valued in Islam.
“The Taliban’s recent ban on secondary education for girls is unacceptable and is clearly contrary to Islamic teachings. There is no mention in the Quran or prophetic sayings that justifies such action by the Taliban,” Harron Imtiaz, a spokesman for the Islamic Society of North America, told VOA news.
Sheikh Faqirullah Faiq, a leading Islamic Scholar in Afghanistan who was interviewed by Voa News, said, “There is not a single problem with females’ education.”
The real culprit for this cruel and oppressive misogyny might be Afghanistan’s patriarchal tribal traditions. “Unfortunately, misogynistic customs and practices – including in Muslim-majority countries like Afghanistan – have continued to propel the domination of men over girls and women, with the Taliban’s un-Islamic prohibition on girls’ education being one manifestation,” said Zainab Chaudry, a director for the Maryland office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
Although the Taliban claim they are doing what’s best for women through work and education bans, many Taliban fighters have a gross history of sexual assault which is completely against Islamic principles. Before the Taliban took over, reports surfaced that they had ordered local religious leaders to send them a list of girls over 15 years of age and widows under 45 years that could be married to the Taliban fighters, regardless of consent.
Many young women or girls are also forcibly married to the Taliban. Fariba, an ex-wife of a Taliban fighter, is one example. She was married off when she was 14 years old to a Taliban fighter and when she had two daughters and the father sold off both his offspring. The husband was twenty years older and Fariba suffered over 26 years of abuse from her previous husband and his in-laws.
According to an interview done with News 18, Fariba said to interviewers, “No matter how much they talk about change (of the Taliban) there is not an iota of truth in it. They are trying to fool the world…”
While the Taliban recently announced a decree that women must consent to marriage, this is only a small deed in comparison to all the other restrictions they have imposed on women. The decree was not a law and therefore cannot be thoroughly enforced. Furthermore, because women cannot work, families in desperation will be looking for women to provide dowry money through marriage, even non-consensual ones.
The untold stories and the pain of Afghanistan women should be heard and seen worldwide. When the Taliban overran Kabul, the jobless rate was at 30% and more than half of the Afghanistan population lived in poverty according to AP News. Now, with most women unable to access work or education, the literacy rates, and poverty rates will only rise.
It is incredibly difficult as ordinary citizens to provide help to others in foreign countries. But the best we can do is to remember what events are transpiring in the world and to raise awareness about these issues. At the very least, we can start the conversation.