What does the girls’ education ban in Afghanistan mean for the world?
In Afghanistan, most schools closed as the country fell to the Taliban, an ultra-conservative Sunni Muslim and mostly ethnic Pashtun armed group, in August 2021. Over the last 10 months they gradually opened for boys of all ages, but girls over the age of 11 have been home since.
Today marks the 286th day since the Taliban banned teenage girls from school. Millions of girls in Afghanistan are imprisoned at home, making it the only country in the world that bans girls’ education.
It is truly heart-breaking to hear the West now say the women of Afghanistan are not our problem anymore. You were there for 20 years. The women & girls were your partners. You asked them to stick their neck out & dream big. You funded, sponsored and invested in them. You backed them.
And yet in the end, you sit and watch as their fate is determined by the Taliban. A group that most recently put up posters around Afghanistan, saying that women who do not wear an Islamic hijab that fully covers their bodies and face are "trying to look like animals.”
What does this say about the West’s commitment to women’s rights and girls’ education?
Education is not a privilege. It is a basic human right.
This is why the Taliban’s ban on girls’ education in Afghanistan is a significant step back in the fight to ensure girls worldwide receive 12 years of quality education. The Taliban have already become a source of inspiration and morale boost for Islamist insurgents around the world. Who’s to say that the impulse to restrict education for girls in the developing world won’t spread as a result?
The stakes are extremely high.
The denial of education violates the human rights of women and girls. Beyond their equal right to education, it leaves them more exposed to violence, poverty and exploitation.
No education for girls means more malnutrition, more hunger, more early pregnancies, more forced marriages. No education means no future financial freedom. Unless we can get education right, the cycle will continue from mother to daughter.
A country like Afghanistan faces two challenges. The first is banning teenage girls from receiving an education and the second challenge is that parents are discouraged from sending their girls to school because of the lack of female teachers and secure campuses.
The Taliban have also banned literacy classes in homes and banned women from teaching in religious schools located in mosques. This move poses a significant threat to civil society groups and NGO’s aiming to deliver educational projects for girls in Afghanistan.
This is why it is essential for the international community to press on this issue in line with democratic and human rights principles, and contrary to some countries like Russia and China, which are intent on appeasing the Taliban and challenging the values the international community painstakingly foster around the world.
UNICEF estimates that 129 million girls are not in school worldwide, including 32 million of primary age and 97 million of secondary age. The agency has found that investment in girls’ education leads to higher national growth rates, lower rates of child marriage and child mortality, lower maternal mortality, and increased lifetime earnings for women.
It is very clear that the Taliban are afraid of educated women and girls. If you have an educated mother, her sons won’t go to madrassas [religious schools] to be brainwashed. Educated women undercut the power of the Taliban, who just want to breed future generations of jihadists.
In Afghanistan, like in most conflict zones around the world, it’s women & girls who are shouldering the heaviest burden. The UK’s recent record in addressing girls’ education and that of marginalised children in the world’s poorest countries has rightly gained considerable praise and respect. We must not destroy our reputation now!
Shabnam Nasimi is a Policy Advisor to the Minister of Afghan Resettlement
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