Marwa Ghyasi, an Afghan legal scholar, argues that the international community must act as the Taliban continues its ban on education for women and girls...
The suffering that Afghan women have endured is matched by only a few other groups in recent world history.
– Afghan-American novelist Khalid Hosseini
Afghanistan stands alone as the only country in the world where women are systematically denied the fundamental right to education. For over a year now, the Taliban’s ban on female education has deprived Afghan women and girls of this most basic and essential human right. As Nowruz ushered in the start of the new year and the promise of spring on 23 March, thousands of Afghan girls eagerly awaited the opening of schools and universities. However, the Taliban cruelly denied them access to education, plunging them into a state of despair, frustration, and hopelessness. This denial of educational opportunities has had profound implications for Afghan women and girls, affecting their prospects for the future, their ability to engage in meaningful work, and their very quality of life.
Meanwhile, despite their draconian policies on female education, the Taliban have not hesitated to send their own daughters to study in schools and universities abroad, in countries such as Pakistan, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, and even Europe and the United States. This double standard has only served to deepen the sense of injustice and oppression that pervades life for all Afghan people, especially women. In the face of such bleak prospects, many are now contemplating migration and escape as the only means of breaking free from this oppressive confinement.
The hopes and aspirations of Afghan girls were high as the new academic year approached, and many believed that the Taliban’s views on women’s education might change after the winter break. They hoped that schools and universities would once again open their doors to girls, enabling them to continue their education and realize their full potential. However, these hopes have been cruelly dashed by the Taliban’s refusal to allow girls to attend school, leaving Afghan girls with no choice but to accept the devastating truth that their right to education has been taken away.
This reality is a bitter pill to swallow, especially in the spring season when nature begins to bloom and flourish once again. Despite this, the Taliban have frozen the minds of millions of people by closing the gates of educational centers, depriving the country of the opportunity to grow and flourish. The dreams and aspirations of an entire generation have been crushed, leaving Afghan girls and women feeling like walking corpses, stripped of their humanity and potential.
Life in Afghanistan has been marked by numerous hardships for its residents. The people of Afghanistan have been subjected to a variety of devastating realities, including captivity, slavery, displacement, migration, mysterious murders, and poverty. Unfortunately, the Taliban have transformed Afghanistan into a military prison, where they have held almost 40 million people captive and subjected them to various forms of torture. Among these captives, women are the most vulnerable and are often forced to make greater sacrifices than men. This situation is particularly harrowing for women, as they are subject to even more fragile and perilous circumstances, and face a greater risk of harm.
The power of education for women cannot be underestimated, as it leads to increased knowledge and independence, ultimately fostering a literate and knowledgeable family and generation. Such education is also key in toppling tyrannical and oppressive governments, for nothing can destroy the foundations of such governments except the literacy and awareness of their oppressed people. The Taliban, aware of this fact, seek to keep women and society in the dark, recognizing that educated women pose the biggest threat to their regime. Their attempt to follow the example of the Iranian government, and its mandatory hijab policy for women, is an alarming indication of their intent to use women as a tool for their own survival. In their eyes, the deprivation of women’s education, work, and freedom is necessary for their own survival, as they view the presence of educated women as a threat to their rule.
Furthermore, the exclusion of women from education and work opportunities limits the potential economic growth of the country. Research has shown that investing in women’s education and employment leads to increased productivity and economic growth. By denying women the right to education and work, the Taliban are limiting the potential economic growth of Afghanistan and causing it to fall behind other countries in the region.
Moreover, the denial of women’s rights violates international human rights laws and principles. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that everyone has the right to education and work without discrimination on the basis of gender. By denying women these rights, the Taliban are violating these fundamental human rights and committing a grave injustice against half of the Afghan population.
Indeed, education is a fundamental human right, and denying it to any individual or group is a violation of that right. It is the responsibility of governments and societies to provide access to education for all, regardless of gender or other factors. Women have the potential to make significant contributions to society if given equal opportunities for education, employment, and participation in decision-making. Gender equality is not only a human rights issue, but it is also a matter of economic development, social stability, and political progress.
In short, empowering women through education and equal opportunities is crucial for building a peaceful, prosperous, and just society. The Taliban’s efforts to deprive women of education and participation in society are detrimental not only to women but to the entire country’s progress and development. Furthermore, the lack of education can lead to a cycle of poverty and violence, as individuals may be forced to turn to illegal means to survive. Thus, The Taliban’s view of women is not just a matter of social norms, but a fundamental violation of the principles of equality and justice that are essential to any civilized society, and the Taliban’s ban on women’s education not only violates their basic human rights but also harms the future of Afghanistan as a whole.
Since the establishment of Taliban rule, Afghan women have engaged in hundred protests against the restrictive orders and prohibitions imposed upon them. These protests have often involved women taking to the streets to demand their rights. Most recently, women have been protesting for the reopening of schools and universities. Despite their persistent efforts, these protests have not yielded the desired results. In their last action against the ban on women and girls’ education, female students made a symbolic move and read books and studied behind the closed doors of universities. This form of protest serves as a poignant reminder of the ongoing struggle for women’s rights in Afghanistan. Despite facing significant obstacles, including threats of violence and intimidation, these women have demonstrated a steadfast commitment to education and the pursuit of knowledge. Their actions speak to the resilience and determination of Afghan women, who continue to fight for their fundamental human rights in the face of tremendous adversity.
It is essential that the international community takes action to support the rights of Afghan women and to hold the Taliban accountable for their human rights abuses. It is essential that the international community stands in solidarity with Afghan women and supports their right to education. We must work together to provide education, economic opportunities, and support for women’s organizations to empower Afghan women. But unfortunately, at this point, neither the international community collectively, nor any country individually, has given firm support to Afghan women.
Marwa Ghyasi is an Afghan law graduate who holds a Master of International Relations from Al-Farabi Kazakh National University in Kazakhstan.
Suggested citation: Marwa Ghyasi, Under Taliban Education Ban, Afghan Women Languish in a Purgatory of Ignorance and Politics, JURIST – Academic Commentary, April 7, 2023, https://www.jurist.org/commentary/2023/04/afghan-women-education-ban.
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