Girls’ Higher Education in Limbo: Female School Students Speak Out Against Education Ban

The Taliban have yet to take a definitive stance on the reopening of schools for girls, with only eleven days remaining until the start of the new school year. The Taliban-run Ministry of Education ceased the education of girls approximately nineteen months ago, claiming that they were working on a plan to protect female students. However, no plan or news regarding the Taliban’s second order has been finalized. Several female students have expressed that the Taliban do not appear to have a genuine desire to reopen secondary and high schools to girls, and are unwilling to discuss the matter. Some female students are advocating for the immediate reopening of secondary and high schools for female students across Afghanistan. Women’s rights advocates believe that the Taliban will continue to prohibit females from attending school until the international community applies significant diplomatic pressure.

Bahara Sadat, a high school student from Parwan province, expressed her distress at the Taliban’s stringent regulations on women and girls, and voiced her worries about the ongoing closure of girls’ high and secondary schools. Bahara, who has been eagerly anticipating the reopening of schools for girls, accused the Taliban of failing to provide educational opportunities for girls.

She further informed Hush-e-Subh that an excessive amount of time had been wasted. The Taliban had made unrealistic pledges that they would devise a plan to reopen schools. As the Taliban regained control of Afghanistan, they prohibited women and girls from working or attending school, which demonstrates that they are not willing to fulfill their promises.

Madina, a tenth-grade student in a public school in Kabul, expressed her worries about the uncertain future of girls’ education, as she aspires to become a doctor in the future. “I am not disheartened even though the Taliban have closed girls’ schools. I hope that the Taliban do not prevent us from studying in the coming years either, so that we can achieve our goals,” she said.

Some male students also support the reopening of secondary and high schools for girls. Mustafa, a resident of Kapisa province, expressed his concern that the Taliban would not permit girls to continue their education. He expressed his hope that the Taliban would establish female schools this year, and emphasized that the Taliban should permit women’s education, as girls have been unable to attend school for over a year and their time should not be wasted.

Many women’s rights activists believe that the Taliban will continue to prohibit girls from attending school until the international community applies diplomatic pressure. Shamayel Tawana Naseri, a women’s rights activist, informed the Husht-e-Subh that the Taliban are an ideological, fundamentalist, and religiously extremist group that act according to their own beliefs, disregarding the fact that a large number of people are being denied education. The Taliban have acquired these restrictive practices from the religious schools they attended in Pakistan.

Afghan women are disheartened as there has been no alteration in the Taliban’s attitude towards women thus far. It is essential for the international community to apply pressure on the Taliban in order for them to revoke their limitations on women and open educational institutions for female students in Afghanistan,” she continued.

Public Reactions to Date

The international community has expressed their anger towards the Taliban’s lack of response to the reopening of schools and universities for girls. During a meeting with Qatar’s deputy foreign minister on Sunday, March 12, the U.S. special representative for Afghan women highlighted the necessity of taking concrete steps to address the issue of girls’ education in Afghanistan.

At the UN 67th Commission on Women, Lolwah Rashid Mohammed Al-Khater, Qatar’s Deputy for Foreign Affairs, remarked that economic, security, and suitable policies have an impact on everyone’s access to education, particularly for girls and women. During the meeting, two representatives discussed the significance of girls’ education in Afghanistan.

On March 8th, International Women’s Day, Amina Mohammed, the Deputy Secretary General of the United Nations, highlighted the importance of not delaying Afghan girls’ education. In a message sent by the Global Fund for Education in Emergencies and Conflict, she noted that the Taliban have been denying girls’ rights to higher education in Afghanistan for over 500 days. She implored sponsors and UN allies to assist the UN Global Fund for Education in Emergencies and Crisis, so that no girl is left behind in Afghanistan or elsewhere.

At a summit entitled “Women, Peace, and Security” held the day prior to International Women’s Day, the United Nations Security Council proposed that the Taliban reassess the employment and educational rights of women and girls. Pakistan’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, expressed his disappointment with the restrictions placed on Afghan women and girls, and requested that the Taliban reconsider their decision to prevent women and girls from working and attending secondary and high school.

Tariq Ahmed, the British Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, has stated that the Taliban must acknowledge the importance of protecting the rights of women and children in order to secure Afghanistan’s future.

Antonio Guterres, the Secretary-General of the United Nations, declared on Twitter that “The United Nations will never cease to advocate for the rights of women and girls in Afghanistan.”

The Organization of Islamic Cooperation declared in a statement that the Taliban’s restriction on women’s work in international organizations is “traditional and un-Islamic” and called for the restriction to be removed.

Many countries, both Islamic (e.g. Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Turkey) and Western (e.g. the United States), have expressed disapproval of the Taliban’s decision to deny women access to higher education and employment opportunities, and have called for a change in this policy. Unfortunately, these requests have not been heeded by the Taliban.

Female students are concerned about the Taliban’s lack of communication regarding the reopening of girls’ secondary and high schools. University classes in colder provinces began on Monday, March 6, without the presence of female students. The Taliban has not provided any information about when girls will be allowed to attend universities this year. The Taliban’s Ministry of Higher Education only mentioned the start of the “male class” in its announcement.

On Monday, March 6th, a group of female students staged a protest in front of Kabul University in a symbolic gesture as classes were due to commence. They were hoping to be able to begin their studies. However, the Taliban meted out punishment to those students. In a related effort, a group of male and female students have also requested that university teachers support the country’s girls and refuse to comply with the Taliban’s ban order.

During the Taliban‘s previous regime from 1996 to 2001, girls and women were denied the right to education. Despite some Taliban officials promising to allow girls to pursue higher education, they have not kept their promise, as it has been over a year and a half since girls have been denied their educational rights.

It was anticipated that the Taliban‘s decision to ban girls education in universities would only be temporary, yet the Taliban‘s Ministry of Education declared that it was creating an educational curriculum in accordance with Islamic Sharia toprovide a secure environment for the education of girls“. However, by the end of 2022, Afghan girls who desired to pursue higher education were left disappointed. There have been numerous local, national, and international reactions to the exclusion of women from schools and universities, including protests and social media campaigns from women in the United States and other countries, but none of these efforts have been successful. Despite disregarding the demands for the reopening of female schools and universities, the Taliban have subjected a number of female demonstrators to humiliation, insult, and imprisonment.

The Acting Minister of Higher Education for the Taliban, Neda Mohammad Nadeem, stated during Kabul University‘s graduation ceremony for religious specialists on February 5th that teaching for female students has not been completely prohibited, but rather suspended until further notice. Nadeem went on to say that those who disregard Afghan conditions and hurt public sentiment are unjust, and that Mullah Hibatullah Akhundzada, the Taliban‘s leader, has been very compassionate for women, as all female university lecturers who do not attend classes are still receiving their salaries.