300 Days of Suspension of Women’s Education in Afghanistan
MARCH 23, AFGHANISTAN – Teenage girls headed to their schools with books in hand for the first time since the Taliban’s rise to power in August, emboldened by the Ministry of Education’s statement two days prior that declared all girls would be allowed to continue attending school with the end of a seven month de-facto ban on secondary schooling for women..
Surprisingly, or foreseeably for those who are familiar with the Taliban’s stance on women’s education, they were turned away at the gates after being informed that classes would remain suspended for students of grade six and above until an “appropriate” dress code was decided for female students and teachers.
Lives of Women Under Taliban Rule (1996 - 2001)
Afghanistan is a country tainted by war and infamous for drastic, sudden changes in its political landscape. Despite having previously recorded steady progress in the forum of human rights and social upliftment, the invasion of communist Soviet troops, U.S.-led international occupation, and constant struggles for power between Mujahideen leaders allows for the abuse of women’s rights, often to fulfil political purposes.
Lives of women under extremist Islamic rule were restricted to their homes but well documented by many. During Taliban rule between 1996 and 2001, efforts were increasingly made to erase women from the public sphere and basic rights like education and employment were revoked. Women were only allowed to emerge in public if fully veiled behind burqas and accompanied by a male mahram (relative) — an arrangement that was eventually brought back into partial effect after the Taliban takeover in August.
Here’s a link to an article by A Mighty Girl listing some books that explore the circumstances of women under Taliban rule.
Despite the pretence of protecting women as prescribed by Islamic decree, physical exploitation of women by the Taliban was rife. That, however, was expected considering that the version of Sharia (Islamic law) being implemented in Afghanistan was of the Taliban’s own interpretation and unacknowledged by international Islamic forums and scholars. Western media depicts this barbaric interpretation to be the accurate measure of Sharia. But in reality, a majority of the Taliban’s laws and extreme practices are condemned by Islamic law.
The Taliban’s perversion of the Sharia allows them to exercise full control in political and social fields with no fruitful repercussions or questioning by Afghans. Those who openly condemn the regime are known to be subjected to torment in the form of harassment, physical or mental.
While the group remains internally divided in its philosophy with hardliners (the military concerned-faction who believes that it is owed respect and authority for twenty years of fighting) and moderates (who are politically-minded and willing to bargain for a more inclusive state in line with international standards) holding different views regarding how Islamic principles should be integrated within Afghan society, its discordant stance on women’s education is where these ideological rifts perceptibly widen.
The moderate half questions how the administration is expected to stop half the country’s population from receiving education, rendering services in employment, and contributing to economic and social growth. But the other draws upon a familiar facet of draconian rule that has popularly included banning education, employment, and travel for women: the Taliban rule from 1996 to 2001.
The international community has emphasised Afghan girls’ education as a precondition to accepting the legitimacy of Taliban rule. International agents have extended foreign aid in this project, with the Educational Cluster, the USA, and the World Bank pledging support and funds for education and development.
The Taliban, however, continues releasing statements that, while they do not oppose female education, a ‘safe environment’ — the definition of which has not been provided but for now includes transportation and physical bifurcation of classrooms — has to be created before women can be allowed into educational institutions again.
Afghan Perception of Female Education
While sustained political turmoil has undoubtedly ravaged the country’s education system, other factors like traditional beliefs, an acute shortage of schools, and inadequate transportation contribute greatly to dropout rates.
Sociocultural norms prescribe a solely domestic life for women, undermining girls’ education as they are married off at an early age. Children who do attend school find themselves receiving a lower quality of education, with only about 48% of teachers having secured minimum academic qualifications. Natural calamities and the growing humanitarian crisis gravely affect an already crumbling education system, preventing concerned parents from sending their children to school – a phenomena that has increased since the Taliban regained control of Afghan administration.
UNICEF estimates that four million children are out-of-school in Afghanistan, 60% or more of which are girls. The Taliban’s ban of secondary education has affected 80% of the female student population.
300 Days Without School
A call to action was initiated by the International Parliamentary Network for Education and joined by fifty civil society organisations, urging the international community and the G20 to quickly develop and fund plans supporting education in Afghanistan.
In 2022, the United Nations aims to spend $4.4 billion on humanitarian aid, partnering with 150 non-governmental organisations working on the ground to deliver essential assistance to around 22 million Afghans – 70% of the country’s population. The International Committee of the Red Cross maintains its presence in the country “to prevent the health system from crumbling completely.”
The Human Rights Council, UN Girls’ Education Initiative, Human Rights Watch, and Malala Fund amongst others have undertaken efforts to bring immediate global attention to the crisis of girls’ education in Afghanistan.
Afghans, activists, and users across the globe have harnessed the power of social media by popularising #300DaysWithoutSchool, bringing attention to an unthinkable plight faced by Afghan girls in a rapidly evolving world that seems indifferent in leaving them behind.