ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (AP) — Two years after the Taliban banned girls from schools beyond the sixth grade, Afghanistan is the only country in the world with restrictions on female education. Now, the rights of Afghan women and girls are on the agenda for Monday’s United Nations General Assembly in New York.
The ban has affected more than a million girls, according to the United Nations children’s agency, although it estimates that 5 million were already out of schools before the Taliban took power due to lack of facilities and other reasons. .
The decision was widely condemned and remains the Taliban’s main obstacle to gaining recognition as the country’s legitimate rulers. But the Taliban defied opposition to their rule and went further, excluding women and girls from higher education, public spaces like parks and most jobs.
Next, a look at the veto on girls’ education.
WHY DID THE TALIBAN EXCLUDE GIRLS FROM HIGH SCHOOL?
The Taliban stopped girls’ education starting in sixth grade, arguing that it did not comply with their interpretation of Islamic law, or sharia. They didn’t make it for children. In the last two years, no progress has been reported in creating the conditions they said they considered necessary for girls to return to class.
Its position on girls’ education comes partly from a specific current of 19th-century Islamic thought and partly from the mentality in rural areas where tribalism is entrenched, according to regional expert Hassan Abbas.
“Those who later developed the (Taliban) movement opted for ideas that are restrictive, orthodox to the extreme and tribal,” said Abbas, who writes extensively about the Taliban. Leaders believe that women should not participate in anything social or public and should especially stay away from education, Abbas said.
The Taliban also banned female education when they ruled Afghanistan in the late 1990s.
WHAT DO MUSLIM-MAJORITY COUNTRIES SAY ABOUT THE BAN?
There is a consensus among clerics outside Afghanistan that Islam places equal emphasis on female and male education. “The Taliban has no basis or evidence to claim otherwise,” Abbas said. However, requests from individual countries and groups such as the Organization of Islamic Cooperation have failed to persuade the Taliban.
Syed Akbar Agha, a former Taliban commander on the front, said the insurgents proclaimed 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. “At this moment there is no (other) Islamic system in the world. “There are efforts underway by the international community to implement democracy in Islamic countries and move them away from the Islamic system.”
WHAT IS THE IMPACT OF THE VETO ON WOMEN?
Roza Otunbayeva, the special representative in Afghanistan of the Secretary General of the United Nations, António Guterres and head of the United Nations mission in Afghanistan, said that one of the obvious impacts of the veto on education is the lack of training for aspiring professionals of health.
Female medical students had their studies interrupted after the Taliban edict last December banned higher education for women. There are Afghan women who work in hospitals and clinics – health is one of the few sectors allowed for them – but qualified workers will stop arriving. Afghan women cannot see male doctors, so girls will also be left without medical care if women are their primary caregivers.
“Looking ahead and in a situation where nothing changes, where will female doctors, midwives, gynecologists or nurses come from?” Otunbayeva asked 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 services if there are no professional women to care for them?”
WHAT IS THE IMPACT ON THE GENERAL AFGHAN POPULATION?
The veto on women’s education is not just a question of girls’ rights. It is a growing crisis for all Afghans.
Tens of thousands of teachers have lost their jobs. Support staff have also been left without support. Private institutions and businesses that derived economic benefits from girls’ education have been affected. Afghanistan has a crumbling economy and people’s incomes are plummeting. Excluding women from the labor market harms the Gross Domestic Product by billions of dollars, UNICEF said.
The Taliban prioritizes Islamic knowledge over basic literacy and mathematics with its turn toward madrassas, or religious schools, paving the way for a generation of children without contemporary or secular education to improve the country’s economic future.
There are other consequences for the general population, such as public health and the protection of minors.
United Nations data indicates that the birth rate has risen among Afghan girls between 15 and 19 years old who do not have secondary or higher education. A woman’s education can also determine whether her sons get basic immunization and whether her daughters are married by the time they turn 18. The lack of education of women is among the main drivers of deficiencies, according to the UN.
Aid groups say girls are more at risk of child employment and child marriage because they are not in school, amid growing hardship for families.
WILL THE TALIBAN CHANGE THEIR MIND?
The Taliban waged a decades-long jihad to impose their vision of sharia law. They don’t give in easily. Sanctions, frozen assets, lack of official recognition and widespread condemnation have not had much effect.
Countries that have relations with the Taliban could achieve something. But they have different priorities, which reduces the chances of forming a united front on women’s education.
Pakistan has concerns about an uptick in militant activity. Iran and Central Asian countries have disputes over water resources. China is interested in investment and mineral extraction opportunities.
There is a greater chance that there will be pressure from within Afghanistan.
The current Taliban government is different from that of decades ago. Prominent leaders such as Chief Spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid are using social media to send important messages to Afghans inside and outside the country.
They point to their success in eradicating narcotics and their campaign against armed groups like the Islamic State. But improving security and eliminating poppy fields will only keep people satisfied to a point.
Although Afghans are concerned about the loss of girls’ education, they have more immediate concerns like making money, putting food on the table, keeping shelter, and surviving floods and harsh winters.
There is a desire in Afghanistan for the Taliban to achieve some kind of international acceptance, even if it is not recognition, so that the economy can prosper.
Public opinion is much more relevant and influential today than during the Taliban regime of the 1990s, Abbas said. “In the end, internal pressure from ordinary Afghans will corner Kandahar and make a difference.”
But it could take years for the consequences of the veto to affect Afghan men and spark a movement of discontent. Right now it only affects girls, and it is mainly women who have protested the successive restrictions.
Agha said Afghans will support the veto if the ultimate goal is to impose the hijab, the Islamic hair-covering garment, and separate by gender. But they won’t do it if it’s simply about ending girls’ education.
“I believe that only the nation can lead the way,” he commented.