What is the future of Afghan girls under Taliban rule?

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For women around the globe, stepping out of your front door is just a regular part of life. But for many Afghan women, it's more than that, it's extraordinary.

Afghanistan is currently the only country in the world that bans secondary education for girls. Across generations, Afghan women have fiercely fought for freedom and equality, striving for visibility and for their value to be acknowledged.

In 1991, 7,000 Afghan women were enrolled in higher education, 230,000 girls attending schools, and 190 female professors. However, by the end of the Taliban's first rule in 2001, less than a million Afghan children were in school, and none of them were girls.

By 2021, Afghan women had secured 69 parliamentary seats out of 249. They were visible in law, politics, journalism, and various public spaces.

Since the Taliban took control of Afghanistan on August 15, 2021, they've issued 80 edicts, 54 specifically targeting women and girls. One year into their rule gender segregation and restricting women’s movement was clear.

Erased from the public sphere

The Taliban has since closed secondary schools for girls; barring women from university and working at NGOs including the United Nations, excluding women from public offices and the judiciary, restricting travel without a male companion, and banning them from public spheres like the gym, parks and sports club.  

Women must now adhere to a strict dress code and if they don’t their male relatives would be punished.

The world’s attention

The global condemnation and threats of the Taliban's treatment of girls and women, along with calls for reforms from the UN's human rights body, have had limited impact on instigating change. Global attention has waned, leaving many Afghan girls to feel abandoned by the world.

Why the ban on education

The Taliban stopped girls' education beyond sixth grade because they said it didn't comply with their interpretation of Islamic law, or Sharia. Afghan universities were also restricted to women due to perceived non-compliance with instructions, including a dress code, with the Taliban's minister for higher education, citing concerns about inappropriate attire resembling wedding attire.

Efforts to persuade the Taliban to reconsider the ban on girls' schools involved individuals like Obaidullah Baheer, a political science lecturer at the American University of Afghanistan, who engaged in discussions with the Taliban in an attempt to overturn the ban.

Baheer said the ban is deeply rooted in the ideological convictions of the current Taliban leader, Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada. Such leaders have been indoctrinated by the Deobandi school of thought and thus enforce a stringent interpretation of Islam on Afghans. The ban, considered a deliberate policy aligns with a fringe Islamic opinion of preferring the choice of one of the Prophet Muhammad's wives, Sawdah Bint Zam'ah, who chose to stay at home until her death.

"This fringe opinion is not held by all Taliban leaders but is one that the current absolute sovereign, the Taliban emir, seems to be convinced of,” he said.

The seemingly bleak future

In the face of numerous challenges, Afghan women persist in creating pockets of hope. Despite facing threats, intimidation, arrests, and torture, women who engage in rare protests against the Taliban's restrictions remain resilient.

Afghan women shout slogans during a rally to protest against what the protesters say is Taliban restrictions on women, in Kabul, Afghanistan on December 28, 2021.
Afghan women shout slogans during a rally to protest against what the protesters say is Taliban restrictions on women, in Kabul, Afghanistan on December 28, 2021.

The future of Afghan women hinges on meaningful engagement between the Taliban and the international community. If the Taliban does not respond to this engagement, it is unclear what the future holds.

Millions of Afghan women are confined to their homes, being forced to spend their days on farms and household chores. The lack of education for girls raises concerns about a generation facing a bleak future with limited rights. Afghan girls now live in fear of what the future holds for them.

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