Kabul: Women issues in Afghanistan have once again come into the spotlight, three months after the Taliban took over Afghanistan. The biggest worry is education for girls and women, which seems to have come to a standstill due to Taliban’s rules and regulations.
Go deeper: Twenty years of progress has seen an abrupt stop with the closure of schools and even universities. The Taliban’s failure to present a plan to reopen girls’ schools and the request to include religion and ethnicity of Herat teachers in their profile tables are some of the concerns that have gripped this segment of the Afghan society.
For three months now, the gates of various schools have been closed to high-school girls since the Taliban came to power in Afghanistan.
Currently, of the 34 provinces in Afghanistan, schools are closed to girls in 27 provinces. Only schools in Balkh, Jawzjan, Samangan, Kunduz and Uruzgan are open to high-school girls.
Although the Taliban government’s Ministry of Education announced the promotion of 7th to 12th grade schoolgirls this year, without passing the annual exam of a grade, the girls, boys and teachers of this newly revitalized small community have little hope.
In fact, in a new hope, the Taliban Education Minister Noorullah Munir recently had announced that a plan was being drawn up to continue educating girls in Afghanistan, however, he had not yet specified when the plan would be complete.
Munir said that the Taliban did not oppose the education of women and considered it their “Islamic and legal” right. However, he added that “the education of women in Islamic society must be done within an Islamic framework.”
Back story: This is not the first time that girls are facing such restrictions. When the Taliban first power in Afghanistan in the 1990s, the group had denied any kind of rights for women and they were not allowed to study and work. Now, 20 years after the previous Taliban regime, the horrific days seem to be repeating for many women and girls.
Since the fall of Afghanistan to the Taliban on August 15 this year, schoolgirls in the country’s provinces have been barred from attending school. Meanwhile, boys from grades 7 to 12 and girls in elementary school have been allowed to go to school since September 18.
What’s different this time is that unlike during the previous Taliban regime, women have come to the forefront and protested on the streets of Kabul and other provinces and even used social media to highlight their ailments and called on the international community to defend women rights. Various groups of women have called on the international community not to recognize the Taliban as long as the Taliban government ignores their rights. This has led to more or less girls continuing their education and the international community putting pressure on the Taliban.
Another interesting development has been the reopening of schools for girls in some provinces. And although the Taliban allowed girls’ schools to reopen in Herat province, there were reports that Herat schools were closed again without conducting the exams.
And while some say that time heals all wounds, some female students have refused to go to school for fear of the group’s performance in the 1990s. A teacher in Herat province, who did not want to be named, said that during the 10-day reopening of schools, high-school girls did not attend school for fear of the Taliban.
Why it matters? Women’s rights and education for girls remains one of the major clauses which the current Taliban regime must fulfill to the contentment of the global leaders if it seeks to get international recognition soon. An expert, who worked for the former government in the Ministry of Education and did not want to be named, stated that the Taliban leadership currently seems to be divided on the issue. “We don’t have technical problems as we do not face shortage of books, infrastructure or lack of teachers, hence closure of schools is not the reason for girls missing education. Given the recent changes, there are two mindsets taking seed within the Taliban about reopening schools for girls. A group of people in the Taliban have the prevailing mentality of the past that girls’ schools should be closed, but another faction of the group wants the world to recognize this group and their government, and receive the help and recognition of the international community,” he added.
Other issues that plague the education system: You must be well aware of the economic crunch in the country and funds for teachers is another obstacle which has to be overrun in Afghanistan.
So far, international aid to Afghanistan has not been handed over to the Taliban and has been spent directly or through international organizations inside the country. One relief for educators in Afghanistan in times of need was provided by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF). UNICEF said that it is setting up a system to pay teachers directly in Afghanistan, so that teachers’ salaries can be paid without the Taliban’s intervention. Munir also said in an interview that talks are underway with the UNICEF regarding teachers’ salaries to resolve the issue. However, the former Afghan education official says that the Taliban want to use the issue as a tool to put pressure on the world. The teachers in Herat, who have not received any money for four months, have now received only one month’s salary, which they say is not enough for them. Some teachers in Herat say that UNICEF’s decision to pay teachers’ salaries has not yet been implemented. The British Foreign Office also announced that the Prime Minister had said at the G20 summit that he would provide 50 million to help educate girls and women in Afghanistan.
Then, the issue of privacy and being on the target list also comes into the question as the intelligence department of the Taliban in Herat has asked for the inclusion of ethnicity and religion, along with other personal information while drawing up a table of teachers’ names, which has worried educators in Herat. “We were worried after seeing the form. We are all Afghans, and why are they stirring up issues such as ethnicity and religion? The fact that the Taliban has asked every administration to do it, is worrying for everyone,” a teacher in Herat told Reporterly.
Zoom out: However, there seems to be a silver lining among the dark clouds. Like we mentioned above, women’s rights is one of the pre-conditions for Taliban’s international recognition and the regime seems to be set sight on that goal. So, the Taliban government is obliged to give women the right to work and education. A step in the right direction is likely the regulations the Taliban government is working on. Even if there are rules, if the possibility of education for girls is allowed for girls and women, Afghanistan may have a brighter future once again.
The big picture: Women have been active in various fields such as politics, society, business and art for 20 years. Over the years, girls have been able to shine in different areas, like the robot-making girls’ team, the team of mountaineering girls and female athletes who have won many awards and achievements. Even women politicians in the government, businesswomen and artists are vivid examples of the success and achievements of women and girls. For women who have struggled over the years to shoulder their responsibilities and even help family members, there are now many challenges, one of which is education and work. The dire economic situation of the families has targeted the girls and women of the families this time as well. Not only have they been banned from going to schools and universities, but are now being sold as well.
In this case, UNICEF expressed concern about the increase in child marriage, saying that some families had proposed their 20-day-old daughters to marry in the future for dowry.
According to the United Nations Fund, 28 percent of women aged 15 to 49 in the country are married before the age of 18.
Also, reports of the sale of a 9-year-old girl to a 55-year-old man was recently published on social media.
And even before the fall of the previous government in the country, poverty, war and social traditions had left 3.7 million Afghan children out of school age.
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These UNICEF figures show that 60% of this number of children are girls and 16% of the more than 10 million school students are girls.
Now, with all that has happened, the international community wants to establish a comprehensive government in Afghanistan, with an emphasis on protecting women’s rights. This vulnerable group, which has recently been able to make progress and succeed in all sectors and areas with all its challenges, must once again protest for its most basic right to “education”, albeit violently.