Is Taliban Really Interested in Girls’ Education or Is Group’s Double-Speak Proof Enough That It Has Not Changed Its Hardline Policies?

The latest: The Taliban has been playing two tunes when it comes to women’s rights and girls’ education in Afghanistan. On one hand, Taliban officials have been relentless in stating to global leaders that they are trying to work out a new curriculum and laws to incorporate girls’ education within the framework of their interpretation of the “Sharia” law. However, on the other hand, the Taliban has now ordered that no girl can register themselves at universities or private educational institutes for this year’s Kankor (University) exams, which in turn is effectively going to deprive them of all education for at least one year.

Go deeper:

  • The Taliban’s Ministry of Higher Education announced a ban on the participation of girls in university entrance exams of private universities. In a letter to private universities, Taliban said that “registration of female students is not allowed until further notice”.
  • The order effectively makes sure that girls do not have any hopes of returning to pursue their education this year.
  • UNAMA in Afghanistan in a tweet said the latest decree by Taliban barring girls from appearing for university entry exams is another step in the wrong direction, and against prior commitments that universities would reopen for women in March. This organization called for its immediate reversal.
  • On December 20, 2022, Ministry of Higher Education of Taliban announced suspension of women from universities until further notice.
  • The double-speak on the issue of girls education is also creating rifts internally in the Taliban. Reports now state that the divide between the moderate faction of the Taliban, mostly led by the group’s Interior Minister Sirajuddin Haqqani and Defence Minister Mullah Mohammad Yaqoob and the hardline faction led by the group’s supreme leader Mullah Hibatullah Akhundzada, is so vast that there are talks of deposing the latter’s rule.
  • But their negotiations with the supreme leader have not borne fruit as Akhundzada is insisting that he will not reverse the ban under international pressure. But Haqqani and Yaqoob are unwilling to accept this position, arguing that international support is vital for Afghanistan.

Tracking Taliban’s Tales: The Taliban has been two-faced on the matter of girls’ education. In fact, there have been several statements of better education for girls, but to no avail.

  • During a meeting with Martin Griffiths, the UN Deputy Secretary General, Sirajuddin Haqqani, the Taliban’s Minister of Interior had said that the ban on girls’ education is due to a difference of opinion about the educational curriculum. He said that the ban is not permanent and will be resolved.
  • In fact, even during the visit of the UN Deputy Secretary General, the same façade was kept up by the Taliban. A number of Taliban officials during a meeting with Amina Mohammed, Amina Mohammed, United Nations Deputy Secretary General, said that this group is trying to create a solution in order to make sure women can get back to work and education based on Sharia rules.
  • Taliban’s Ministry of Refugees and Repatriation in a statement said that Khalil ur Rahman Haqqani, Taliban’s acting minister of this ministry, during the meeting with Amina Mohammed said that this group is not against women’s education and them working, but because Afghanistan is a traditional society, it’s culture should be understood.
  • When an OIC declaration described the bans as violations of Islamic law and “the methodology” of Prophet Muhammad, urging the Taliban to reconsider decisions banning women from education and work; Taliban’s chief spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said that his government welcomes the OIC meeting and its declaration. But then again in a paradox, they issued a statement issued to media, Mujahid urged the international community “not to interfere in internal affairs” of Afghanistan.
  • The Taliban had earlier made similar promises about middle school and high school access for girls, saying classes would resume for them once “technical issues” around uniforms and transport were sorted out. But girls remain shut out of classrooms beyond sixth grade.

Back story: Nada Mohammad Nadim, Acting Minister of Higher Education of Taliban, had said that girls going to school is a sign of “foreign culture” and said that this culture was brought into the country by Amanullah Khan. In a video tape that was published on social networks, he said that girls going to school is a form of “revelry and obscenity”.

  • After seizing power in Kabul on August 15, 2021, the Taliban has closed the gates of schools for girls above sixth grade. The group has repeatedly said that they are working on the reopening of girls’ schools, but after nearly a year and a half, there is no further news of this plan.

Why it matters? Despite initially promising a more moderate rule respecting rights for women’s and minorities, the Taliban have widely implemented their strict interpretation of Islamic law, or Sharia.

  • They have banned girls from middle school and high school, restricted women from most employment and ordered them to wear head-to-toe clothing in public. Women are also banned from parks and gyms.
  • The decision is certain to hurt efforts by the Taliban to win recognition from potential international donors at a time when the country is mired in a worsening humanitarian crisis. The international community has urged Taliban leaders to reopen schools and give women their right to public space. 

Zoom out: The fact of the matter is that women and girls are being deprived of their rights, including the basic right to gain education, however, there are still ways through which there is some glimmer of hope left in Afghanistan.

  • Apart from some private institutions already providing education to all those girls and women out of school and universities, there are also some global players involved, making sure that they do not lose out on years of education just because of the hardline Taliban policies.
  • There are many Western universities currently providing online education to girls which helps them gain knowledge without stepping out of their homes, in turn protecting them from the edicts of the Taliban.
  • On ground too, women and girls are defying the Taliban’s ban on their education by attending the secret schools discreetly, inside homes in a supportive residential neighbourhoods and as a precautionary measure, the girls don’t even bring their materials — no books, pens or paper.
  • Also, to solve the problem of internet access in rural areas, there are talks that even Elon Musk’s Starlink satellite system may come in handy, just like in Ukraine and Iran.
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