- In 2021, the Taliban banned young girls in Afghanistan from attending school beyond the sixth grade due to beliefs that female education was inconsistent with their interpretation of Islamic law, or Sharia.
- Although the Taliban has faced global pressure to allow girls to return to the classroom, the group has tightened its restrictions on women by barring them from public spaces such as parks.
- The United Nations General Assembly in New York added the crisis in Afghanistan to its agenda on Monday.
Two years after the Taliban banned girls from school beyond the sixth grade, Afghanistan is the only country in the world with restrictions on women’s education. Now, the rights of Afghan women and children are on the agenda of the United Nations General Assembly on Monday in New York.
The UN children’s agency says more than 1 million girls are affected by the ban, although it estimates 5 million were out of school before the Taliban took over due to a lack of facilities and other reasons.
The ban drew global condemnation and remains the Taliban’s biggest obstacle to gaining recognition as the legitimate rulers of Afghanistan. But the Taliban defied the backlash and went further, barring women and girls from higher education, public spaces such as parks and most jobs.
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Here’s a look at the ban on girls’ education:
Why did the Taliban exclude girls from high school?
The Taliban stopped girls’ education beyond the sixth grade because they said it was not in line with their interpretation of Islamic law, or Sharia. They didn’t stop it for the boys. In the past two years, they have shown no signs of progress in creating the conditions they say they need to get girls back into the classroom.
Their view on educating girls comes partly from a particular 19th-century school of Islamic thought and partly from rural areas where tribalism is entrenched, according to regional expert Hassan Abbas.
“Those who continued to develop the (Taliban) movement chose ideas that are restrictive, orthodox to extreme and tribal,” said Abbas, who writes extensively on the Taliban. The Taliban leadership believes that women should not participate in anything social or public and should mostly be kept out of education, Abbas said.
The Taliban also stopped girls’ education when they ruled Afghanistan in the late 1990s.
What do Muslim-majority countries say about the ban?
There is consensus among clerics outside Afghanistan that Islam places equal emphasis on the education of women and men. “The Taliban have no basis or evidence to claim otherwise,” Abbas said. However, appeals by individual countries and groups such as the Organization of Islamic Cooperation have failed to sway the Taliban.
Syed Akbar Agha, a former Taliban frontline commander, said the insurgents upheld an Islamic system the day they entered Kabul in August 2021.
“They also gave the Afghans and the outside world the idea that there would be an Islamic system in the country,” Agha said. “There is currently no (other) Islamic system in the world. The efforts of the international community continue to implement democracy in Islamic countries and to wean them away from the Islamic system.”
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What is the impact of the ban on women?
Roza Otunbayeva, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’ special representative for Afghanistan and head of the UN mission in Afghanistan, said one of the obvious effects of the education ban is the lack of training for aspiring health professionals.
Female medical students stopped their studies following the Taliban’s decree last December banning higher education for women. Afghan women work in hospitals and clinics — health care is one of the few fields open to them — but the pipeline of qualified people will dry up. Afghan women cannot see male doctors, so children will also miss out on medical care if women are their primary caregivers.
“Looking to the future and a scenario where nothing changes, where will the women doctors, midwives, gynecologists or nurses come from?” Otunbayeva said in an email to The Associated Press. “In a strictly gender-segregated society, how will Afghan women be able to receive the most basic health care services if there are no female professionals to treat them?”
What is the impact on the wider population of Afghanistan?
Banning high school isn’t just about girls’ rights. It is a worsening crisis for all Afghans.
Tens of thousands of teachers have lost their jobs. Support staff are also unemployed. Private institutions and businesses that benefited financially from girls’ education have been hit. Afghanistan has a broken economy and people’s incomes are plummeting. Excluding women from the labor market is damaging the country’s GDP at a cost of billions of dollars, UNICEF says.
The Taliban are prioritizing Islamic knowledge over basic literacy and numeracy by turning to madrassas, or religious schools, paving the way for a generation of children with no modern or secular education to improve their or the country’s economic future.
There are other implications for the general population, such as public health and child protection.
UN figures say birth rates are highest among Afghan girls aged 15-19 who have no secondary or tertiary education. A woman’s education can also determine whether her children have primary vaccination and whether her daughters are married by the age of 18. Women’s lack of education is one of the major factors of deprivation, says the UN
Aid groups say girls are at increased risk of child labor and child marriage because they don’t go to school, amid growing hardship for families.
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Will the Taliban change their minds?
The Taliban have waged a decades-long jihad to implement their vision of Sharia. They don’t give up easily. Sanctions, asset freezes, lack of official recognition and widespread condemnation have made little difference.
Countries with ties to the Taliban could have an impact. But they have different priorities, reducing the prospects of a united front for girls’ education.
Pakistan is concerned about the resurgence of militant activity. Iran and Central Asian countries have complaints about water resources. China is looking at investment and mineral mining opportunities.
There is a greater possibility of pressure from Afghanistan.
Today’s Taliban rule is different from what it was decades ago. Senior leaders, including chief spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid, rely on social media for key messages to Afghans at home and abroad.
They point to their success in eradicating drugs and cracking down on armed groups like the Islamic State. But improving safety and eliminating poppy cultivation will satisfy people only up to a point.
While Afghans worry about losing girls’ education, they have more immediate concerns like earning money, putting food on the table, keeping a roof over their heads and surviving droughts and harsh winters.
There is a desire in Afghanistan for the Taliban to have some kind of international acceptance, even if it is not recognition, so that the economy can thrive.
Public opinion is much more relevant and influential today than it was during the Taliban’s rule in the 1990s, Abbas said. “Internal pressure from ordinary Afghans will eventually push Kandahar into a corner and make the difference.”
However, it may take years for the effects of the ban to hit Afghan men and cause a wave of unrest. Right now, it only affects girls and it’s mostly women who have complained about the multitude of restrictions.
Agha said Afghans would support the ban if the ultimate goal is to enforce the hijab, the Islamic headscarf, and complete gender mixing. But they won’t if it’s simply to end girls’ education.
“I think only the nation can lead the way,” he said.