It is a horror that we do not even consider, women’s rights being reversed in the 21st century, but in Afghanistan it is a nightmare that girls are once again living through. I feel incredibly lucky that growing up in the UK my sex has never been a factor as to how far I will be able to go into education. I couldn’t imagine not being able to come into college tomorrow because I am female. Yet, for Afghan girls this is a very real and likely possibility.
Since the Taliban returned to power in Afghanistan in August, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Interior Affairs has said that “all the girls and women will return to school and their teaching jobs” and that the group wasn’t against the education of women. However, it is speculated that these assurances have only been made to not give the West any extra reason to intervene in the country. Also, there are claims that the Taliban want to try and appear like they are a legitimate regime in order to secure the aid they desperately need from other countries – the USA donated $150 billion in non-military aid from 2001-2020.
When the Taliban first took control of Afghanistan, they banned almost all education for girls during their 1996-2001 rule of the country. Only 9 years ago, the Taliban shot Malala Yousafazi in the head in Pakistan for campaigning for girls’ education. Clearly, their attitude to the education of girls hasn’t changed and the threat of serious violence to any challenger of said attitude remains.
The Taliban has already said that girls will not be allowed to go to school with boys and must be taught by female teachers. However, according to UNICEF, only 16% of Afghan schools are currently girls-only, and only a third of teachers are female, with just 10-15% being properly qualified. This will leave an alarmingly high percentage of Afghan girls with little to no education, when just months ago they were able to safely access it.
What’s more, it is feared that the best female teachers will flee the country to avoid being targeted by the Taliban. Many teachers are already preparing for the worst. Shabana Basij-Rasikh, founder of Afghanistan's first girls' boarding school, said in August she had burnt her students' records “to protect the girls and their families.”
Since the Taliban were ousted from Afghanistan, the increase in girls’ secondary education grew rapidly with nearly 40% enrolled in 2018 compared with 6% in 2003, according to UNICEF. Furthermore, the number of girls going to university increased by the tens of thousands, with some studying to become doctors, lawyers, scientists, and journalists.
However, all these years of hard work by the girls of Afghanistan may have gone to waste, with experts warning that even if girls are allowed to stay in education, they will be denied access to higher education and many of the aforementioned careers. Many worry that girls' education and future opportunities will be restricted under the militant group's rule, with the Women’s Affairs ministry already abolished by the Taliban.
Until the dust settles, the future of girl’s education in Taliban led Afghanistan will remain unclear, with the only source of hope being that the Taliban’s regime will collapse sooner rather than later. Nevertheless, the best thing we can do is write to our local MPs about this to encourage our government to speak out on this issue and join other countries in applying diplomatic pressure. We should also never forget how lucky we are to have safe access to education.