By: Mohammad Alias Hassany
The Taliban banned over a million Afghan high school aged girls from getting education when they overthrew the internationally supported republic government on August 15, 2021 and took control of Afghanistan.
The Taliban enforced a range of policies depriving Afghan women and girls of their basic human rights including imposing restrictions on social life activities and limiting access to education and employment. Tens of thousands of female school teachers across the country were forced to stay home, and Afghan girls now have bleak prospects for their education.
Afghan high school age girls have already lost one year of schooling and if the schools are not opened immediately, they would lose the second year too, and the cost of keeping the girls’ school closed will be irreversible, both for Afghans and the international community. The continuation of closure of girls’ high schools, is deeply concerning for Afghan human rights defenders.
As Afghan women and girls are approaching the anniversary of one dark year deprived of their basic human rights, fifty Afghan human rights defenders (AHRDs) in exile now call on the international community to put pressure on the Taliban leaders in Afghanistan and hold them accountable to their Doha promises about protecting basic human rights for women and girls. Only condemnation or announcement of concern is not enough. Practical steps such as expanding travel bans on all Taliban leaders by the UN security council are needed to force the Taliban leaders to take immediate actions about re-opening of girls’ secondary schools without further delay.
Since regaining control of Afghanistan, the Taliban leadership has been issuing on average three public decrees per month on the rights of women and girls. The decrees impose increasingly tougher restrictions in all spheres of life and make it gradually harder for women and girls to partake in society. Many international and national human rights organizations raised their voices against these restrictive regulations but got no satisfactory response from the Taliban. The costs are huge in terms of psychological, economic, and social impacts, in the short as well as longer term. The continued closure of secondary schools for girls will over time cause irreversible harm to society, not only for Afghanistan but for the region and the world.
During the earlier Taliban rule in Afghanistan, between 1996 and 2001, less than a million children were enrolled in schools – mostly boys. From October 2001 however, when the Taliban regime was toppled, a new chapter was opened for Afghan children. Afghanistan received unprecedented international support in all areas including the education sector. By 2006, according to a study by Oxfam, the number of enrollments in schools increased by 100 percent. The number of girls’ enrollment in the same period increased from 5,000 to 1.7 million girls.
By 2020, 3.8 million girls had access to education across the country, and this is often quoted as a major success story of international aid to Afghanistan. The number of girls in higher education also increased not only in numbers but also in achievements. In two consecutive years, 2020 and 2021, two girls received the highest scores in Afghanistan’s annual national university entrance exam. The exam was held with over 170,000 applicants on average each year. The 2021 national university entrance exam, which was held just a month before the Taliban takeover in Kabul, had 179,000 participating high school students, 12.5 percent of which were girls. All these gains made in girls’ education during two decades are now jeopardized by the Taliban directive which only allows primary school girls to attend school and study until grade six. According to civil society reports, the number of girls going to primary schools is furthermore decreasing due to lack of female teachers and uncertainty about the education system in general, in Afghanistan.
The international community should make girls’ access to education a precondition for their talks and negotiations with relevant leaders and de facto authorities in Afghanistan. No further talks with the Taliban should be held unless Afghan women are included in these talks and there is a firm commitment from the Taliban about immediate re-opening of girls’ high schools this summer. The Taliban must immediately open high school doors for girls and allow female teachers to return to teaching.
The United Stations, United Kingdom, Germany, and many other countries that provided financial and technical support to the Afghanistan education sector during the past two decades, must help prevent the current Taliban government from imposing any further restrictions on women and girls, and must hold Taliban leaders accountable to their commitment made during the Doha negotiations.
The international community should also provide funding to non-state actors in Afghanistan. During the past two decades, a wide range of non-state national and international organizations were engaged in education service delivery in the country, thereby helping to extend schooling to areas where state capacity was inadequate.