It’s that time of the year again, when children of all ages put away their summer memories and pack their school bags with new notebooks and pens. They’ll receive a Chromebook in homeroom and sit in clean, well-lit classrooms, at laminated desks or tables. For some, it’ll be a new experience, entering kindergarten. Others will enter their last year as seniors, contemplating which college they’ll go to, or maybe a trade school.
Now imagine if half those children were told they couldn’t go to school, couldn’t go to college, couldn’t be trained in a trade. What if half of those parents couldn’t allow their children from attending school because they faced similar restrictions?
This is the state of education for females in Afghanistan. Girls seeking to elevate themselves through education no longer have the right to do so.
The de facto Taliban regime waffled on how education was to be delivered to females. First, it was segregated classrooms. That was followed by the elimination of certain majors for female college students. Now, it’s the ban on secondary education. In some regions, girls end their education at the third grade.
Nine months into the Taliban’s national ban of girls’ education beyond fifth grade, Taliban acting interior minister Khalifa Sirajuddin Haqqani called for patience on the matter of girls’ education. “Girls’ education is a need of our society, and this issue will be solved according to the conditions,” he said to a visiting delegation from the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC). He did not state what these conditions might be, nor detail any plan going forward to remedy the situation of limiting girls’ access to education.
By most accounts, the Taliban’s decision to deprive women of education can not be explained by Islamic law. In the Quran, God places great importance on education of both sexes, with over 800 references to the word ilm – the Arabic word for “knowledge.” Sheikh Ahmed al Tayeb, the Grand Imam of Al Azhar has stated that restricting women from pursuing education and public roles is a major sin “that will cause consequences on Judgement Day.”
This holy edict is apparently ignored by those who regulate educational practices in Afghanistan. In September 2021, Taliban’s Education Minister Sheikh Mawlawi Noorulla went so far as to say, “No PhD degree, master’s degree is valuable today. You see that the Mullahs and Taliban that are in power have no PhD, MA or even a high school degree, but are the greatest of all.” If this government official places so little value on education for anyone, what hope is there for girls and women?
During the Western occupation of Afghanistan, it was still a struggle for girls to obtain an education in some regions. 4.2 million children were out of school; 60% of these children were girls. The de facto Taliban government only makes this situation worse.
Consequences of forbidding half the population from receiving an education have a direct impact on Afghan economic productivity. According to a study conducted by UNICEF in August 2022, one year after the takeover, the restriction of girls’ education resulted in a 2.5% decrease in the economy. Educated women create businesses, which in turn create jobs and taxable income for the government. Without their contributions, a wealth of income has gone missing.
Equally frightening is what lies ahead for uneducated girls. Access to hygienic products, supplements such as iron and folic acid, as well as meals, were offered to girls in schools. Without these, health suffers, malnutrition sets in, resulting in needless suffering. Families that struggle to feed their children often resort to marrying off their young daughters to older men, setting up a cycle of abuse. What’s more, the Taliban’s decision against women’s education will ultimately deplete the society of trained female medical staff. This will force Afghan women to seek medical attention from male doctors, ironically undermining the Taliban’s goal of maintaining gender segregation.
Education is a right for all. No society can prosper by denying the right for girls and women to become educated. Literacy benefits all in a society, creating the ability to achieve economic stability. Without this light to shine, everyone suffers. To learn more about the current state of Afghan girls’ education, follow the hashtag #LetAfghanGirlsLearn and help advocate for this right.
Blog written by Gretchen Weerheim, Women for Afghan Women
Photo caption: Girl in class at one of WAW’s Children’s Support Centers in Afghanistan, 2023