In July, the Taliban announced a meeting of handpicked clerics to decide on the fate of the education ban. But only two clerics came in support of the girls’ education. Since then, the Taliban has not made any progress on whether they are willing to compromise
“Initially, we were hopeful that they would reopen schools, but with the passage of time, we noticed that, no, they are doing something else. They just issue anti-women verdicts after each day,” Nazhand said. “I don’t think that they are willing to reopen schools, the Taliban don’t have any problem with girls’ schools, but they want to exploit them politically. They want to continue their ruling on society by banning girls schools. It is in their interest to impose restrictions on women because they can’t do it on males.”
After the US military intervention of Afghanistan in late 2001 that ousted the Taliban from power, the war-torn country witnessed a series of socioeconomic reforms and rebuilding programs. The post-Taliban constitution, which was ratified in 2004, expanded women’s rights to go to school, vote, work, serve in civic institutions, and protest. By 2009, women were running for president for the first time in the country’s history.
But the four decades of war and hostility inflicted massive harm to Afghanistan’s basic infrastructures, including to the nation’s educational assets.
And even before the Taliban seized power on Aug. 15 last year, a report by UNICEF found that Afghanistan had struggled with more than 4.2 million children out of school, 60% of whom were girls. Although the potential costs of not educating boys and girls alike are high in terms of lost earnings, not educating girls is especially costly because of the relationship between educational attainment and student delaying marriage and childbearing, participating in the workforce, making choices about their own future, and investing more in the health and education of their own children later in life. The analysis indicates that Afghanistan will be unable to regain the GDP lost during the transition and reach its true potential productivity without fulfilling girls’ rights to access and complete secondary school education. UNICEF also estimated that If the current cohort of 3 million girls were able to complete their secondary education and participate in the job market, it would contribute at least $5.4 billion to Afghanistan’s economy.
A report by Amnesty International also says that the Taliban have prevented women across Afghanistan from working.
“Most women government employees have been told to stay home, with the exception of those working in certain sectors such as health and education,” the report states. “In the private sector, many women have been dismissed from high-level positions. The Taliban’s policy appears to be that they will allow only women who cannot be replaced by men to keep working. Women who have continued working told Amnesty International that they are finding it extremely difficult in the face of Taliban restrictions on their clothing and behavior, such as the requirement for women doctors to avoid treating male patients or interacting with male colleagues.
“Twenty years ago, when the Taliban took control of Afghanistan, the first thing they did was a ban on women’s access to education,” Nazhand said. “The Taliban kept a large number of women in isolation and as an illiterate population; the outcome was a paralyzed and backward society. We shouldn’t forget that the Taliban are still suffering from the radical and repressive mindset that they would hold 20 years ago. We shouldn’t remain the women that we were 20 years ago, and we will not remain silent.”
Security threats and acts of terrorism have also been a major concern to the students in Afghanistan. In late October, a suicide bomber attacked a class packed with over 500 students in west Kabul, killing at least 54 school graduates — among them were 54 young girls. The attack marked the second deadly attack on education centers in the country since the Taliban had taken over power.