Women in Afghanistan are up in arms. Fatigued by fundamentalism, they are sinking under the burden of their sex. As they plod along a promiseless Afghan terrain, they are leaving behind drag marks of despair and disgust. Womanhood and school education have become prime casualties of Taliban terror today. Ironically, Taliban means ‘students’ in the Pashto language, but Taliban is proving to be the antithesis of education.

As Afghan girls grew up, they were told to dress decently. They were advised to clothe their bodies to uphold values of modesty. Sadly, Afghan girls and women see their bodies today as signs of patriarchal oppression and symbols of rebellion. They feel their bodies have become their liabilities. This feeling stems, in the first place, from Taliban’s penchant for keeping the schools closed for girls.

First Frontier of Attack

Afghan women shudder at the thoughts of closed schools and their bodies being overrun involuntarily. Taliban likes to skirt the issues of girls’ education and women freedom at the slightest provocation. Truly, Taliban fears the beauty of Afghan women and detests their resilience and resistance. The militant group dreads to lose partriarchal control over Afghan women and their bodies. This is why the first frontier of Taliban attack is girls’ education, an enabler of freedom from patriarchy.

Rabid as they are, Taliban believes women do not need freedom and free education. Quite natural, in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan, women cannot venture out of their homes without a male escort. Such restrictions make Afghan women surrender to patriarchal men who believe the bodies of women should be covered, to be ravished by them, not to be decorated and displayed. Sadly, Afghan girls and women are paying a steep price with their education.

Gender-Based Denial of Education

Taliban wants this state of affairs to continue. The whole idea is to keep the ultra-conservative religionists happy. Plus, angering zealots would force Taliban’s own supporters defect to the Islamic State or the Wahhabist al-Qaeda. These formations are radical jihadist groups fighting for freedom from faddish Western culture. Unitedly, they see the ‘decadent’ West as a major threat to Islam. Yet, the Islamic State alone is more conspicuous. Understandably, Taliban does not want to lose its supporters to the Islamic State and remain at large for ever.

In this fight for relevance, Taliban sees girls and women are major planks. Controlling them and their education is vital to achieve fundamentalist supremacy. Thus, despite Afghans supporting education for girls, Taliban is not allowing secondary schools for girls to open. Not every Islamic leader agrees with this Taliban orthodoxy. Rationalists are crying hoarse asking Taliban why close the schools for girls.

Taliban justifies closing secondary girl schools on religious principles. But, activists and scholars insist gender-based denial of education has no sanction in Islam. Incomprehensibly, Islamic Emirate leader Hibatullah Akhundzada is staying tight-lipped over opening the secondary schools for girls. Taliban is taking delight in passing the buck and says it is ready to open the schools for girls once Akhundzada orders. But, the reticent leader is not ordering, despite repeated calls from Afghan Islamic clerics. https://www.voanews.com/a/muslim-scholars-activists-taliban-ban-ongirls-education-not-justified-/6526830.html

Terrible Acts of Injustice

Meanwhile, the plight of Afghan girls is worsening on predictable lines.  Terribly concerned, The United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women, aka UN Women, declared poignantly: “When the world faces multiple, overlapping crises, Afghanistan remains in the throes of a deep economic and humanitarian crisis”. https://news.un.org/en/story/2022/08/1124662  The crisis hits home as nearly 95 per cent of the women-run households do not have enough to eat. Tragically, Taliban has erased the progress made to date on gender rights in Afghanistan.

In an implicit endorsement, Afghanistan may take pride in being the lone country where girls are banned from going to high school. The gender injustice does not end there. Women are barred from politics. Taliban has an all-male cabinet and has no Minister for women’s affairs. Afghan women are restricted from working, must cover their faces in public and have to be chaperoned by males. On the top of it, women are subjected to multiple forms of gender-based violence. An enraged UN Women burst out to call this ‘a terrible act of self-sabotage’.

Limits to Hitting Full Potential

More terrible is how this gender violence impacts daily life in Afghanistan. Hit badly by the Ukraine war, food prices have skyrocketed. This is leaving nearly 95 per cent of female-headed households foodless. Inevitably, girls drop out. This violates the right of girls to education and limits their scope for hitting their full potential. Further, shut schools and denied education expose the girls to risks of early marriage and pregnancy.

As Afghan girls are denied education, Afghanistan will stand diminished further with a paucity of women professionals. In many Afghan regions, women alone are allowed to treat women. If secondary schools are closed for girls today, how can there be female doctors tomorrow? This is the question many women are asking today in Afghanistan. Viewed from a wide angle, closure of schools means restricting Afghan women’s access to their basic rights.

Taliban Doublespeak Continues

What then is Taliban’s current stand on girls’ education? During the 2020 Doha talks with the United States, Taliban leaders had declared Afghan girls would be allowed to attend schools and colleges. However, once Taliban assumed control over Afghanistan, secondary schools opened for boys, not for girls. This duplicity betrayed Taliban’s mindset. https://www.aljazeera.com/features/2020/10/7/who-are-the-afghanwomen-negotiating-peace-with-taliban

Meanwhile, Taliban’s doublespeak on girls’ schools continued. Later, Taliban declared girls’ schools would open in March this year. When Afghan girls began going to their schools on 23 March this year, they were sent home abruptly with nary an explanation. Such a depressing scenario is dashing Afghan girls’ educational dreams to the ground.

Shunning Underground Schools

As they cannot leave their homes without a male escort, Afghan girls and women can never dream of studying and working independently. Studying online is out as many can neither afford smartphones nor tablets. In capital Kabul, there are a few underground schools for women, but Afghan women shun them for the fear of being killed.  https://www.huffpost.com/entry/taliban-afghanistan-girls-schoolban_n_624365fae4b0e44de9ba6e6a

At the end of it, Afghan women have primary schools and the university, but no secondary schools. When women are excessively concerned about what they wear, what they read and who they are seen with, how can they have the time and energy to study? When secondary school girls are turned away, thanks to Taliban volte face, mere hours after re-opening the schools, where is the hope for women education?  https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2022/3/23/taliban-orders-girlsschools-shut-hours-after-reopening

Cracking Down on Women’s Rallies

This Taliban policy of keeping secondary girls’ schools shut is pushing girls into early marriages and early pregnancies. This may be causing maternal mortality on a wider scale. Despite calls for help, Taliban has done little. This is agitating Afghan women, who are taking to the streets. Cracking the whip, a determined Taliban is descending on women and their rallies.

Recently, Taliban forces fired in the air after 40 unveiled women were walking in a “bread, work and freedom” march in Kabul demanding right to work and political participation. The women were hit with rifle butts, their banners were torn and they were forcibly disbanded. The women were demanding right to work and political participation.   

Such violent reprisals highlight Taliban’s misogynistic approach. In a blatant display, Taliban is asking Afghan women to give up their jobs for men. Anyway, the countably few working Afghan women are paid a pittance. A grim indicator of this distasteful practice is the 16 per cent drop in the number of working women in Talibanese Afghanistan.    https://asiaplustj.info/en/news/world/20220815/taliban-dispersesafghan-womens-march-for-bread-work-and-freedom. A worrisome portent indeed for women and their rights.

In Conclusion

Denying Afghan women their rights to learn and work is destroying the Afghan economy. The Unicef Afghanistan Representative Dr Mohamed Ayoya says: “The decision not to allow girls back to secondary school not only violates girls’ fundamental right to education, it exposes them to heightened anxiety, and greater risk of exploitation and abuse including child trafficking, early and forced marriage. Now, this new analysis clearly articulates the terrible economic impact of this decision on the country’s GDP.” Dr Ayoya could not have been more correct. Taliban’s patriarchy has cost Afghanistan 2.5 per cent of its annual domestic product and the slide continues.