Ever since the Taliban lost power in Afghanistan in 2001, access to education for women
has grown significantly. According to a UNESCO report, girls made up 35.7% of lower
secondary school students and 34% of upper secondary school students in 2018, compared to virtually none in 2001. This same report additionally showed that approximately a quarter of
students seeking higher education in Afghanistan were women. However, since the Taliban
regained power in the region in the summer of 2021, these previously expanding opportunities are slipping away from young women.
When the Taliban returned to power in Afghanistan, they attempted to present themselves as more moderate than 20 years prior, however, their attitudes towards women appear to remain the same. After schools reopened on September 18th , having been closed due to the SARS-CoV-2 Pandemic, young boys, grades 7 to 12, were instructed to report back to their studies, but there was no mention about what young girls were supposed to do. So, fearing the Taliban, girls stayed home, and many continue to do so.
The Taliban have recently opened school doors for young women again, but the restrictions imposed on their education are intense. Teachers have begun instructing parents to make their girls less excited about their education, and in some cases, girls have given up on it altogether. In Mazar-i-Sharif, a large city in Northern Afghanistan, fewer than half of female students have returned to the classroom. Many students describe the joy of their academic freedoms being abruptly replaced by fear.
Policies set in place by the Taliban are harming the entire educational system in Afghanistan as well. A strict new rule segregates classes by gender, worsening an already critical shortage of teachers. Afghanistan’s Ministry of Education stated that they needed 50,000 more instructors to compensate for the number of students in schools. However, with 36% of teachers being women in 2018, separating classes by gender only threatens to make classes more difficult to manage and less effective.
Women in Afghanistan who had previously held high ambitions are not hopeful about their higher education anymore. Though the Taliban have assured women they will have access to graduate and post-graduate education, they have barred women from public-facing jobs and are fostering an environment at odds with women’s career goals. The situation, however, is still unfolding, so young girls in Afghanistan continue to study as much as they are able. However, their futures are increasingly uncertain.
People in Afghanistan who were alive to see the rule of the Taliban 20 years ago have already started drawing parallels between their actions then and their actions now. The decrease in education for women is beginning to resemble the old Taliban order, and women are already predicting that their role in society will be heavily cut. While international human rights groups are outraged by these developments, the Taliban seems mostly apathetic to their concerns. The Taliban’s director of education for the Balkh Province went as far as to ask, "Why is the West so concerned about women?”
Still, influential organizations such as the United Nations and the Human Rights Watch are calling for the Taliban to reopen access for girls to get an education. Whether or not their
promises to do so will be fulfilled or not is yet to be seen, however, their actions seem to indicate that the Taliban is more aligned with their past than the world’s future.
Image Source: Southern Nevada Health District
Bilefsky, Dan, and Farnaz Fassihi. “For Afghan Women, Taliban Stirs Fears of a Return to a Repressive Past.” The New York Times, August 17 2021, https://www.nytimes.com/2021 /08/17/world/asia/afghanistan-womentaliban.html?action=click&module=RelatedLinks &pgtype=Article
Goldbaum, Christina. “A Harsh New Reality for Afghan Women and Girls in Taliban-Run Schools.” The New York Times, September 20 2021, https://www.nytimes.com/2021/09 /20/world/asia/afghan-girls-schools-taliban.html
Goldbaum, Christina. “Taliban Allows Girls to Return to Some High Schools, but With Big Caveats.” The New York Times, October 27 2021, https://www.nytimes.com/2021 /10/27/world/asia/afghan-girls-school-taliban.html
Sadat, Fariba. “Afghan Schools Need at Least 50,000 Teachers: Ministry.” Tolo News, April 10 2021, https://tolonews.com/afghanistan-171359
UNESCO. “The Right to Education: What’s at Stake in Afghanistan?” United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization, 2021, https://unesdoc.unesco.org/ark:/ 48223/pf0000378911