According to a recent BBC report, the Taliban has instructed the schools not to allow girls over the age of 10 to attend schools in Afghanistan. This development has come after a total ban on Afghan women receiving secondary education and attending colleges late last year.
Since the withdrawal of US troops and the subsequent Taliban takeover of Afghanistan in August 2021, women have been erased from all aspects of public life. And somehow, the world has paid no heed to these regressive policies.
During the period of the US-led reconstruction of Afghanistan, women were going to schools and colleges and holding public offices. Between 2002 and 2021, over 3,816,793 girls enrolled until 12th grade. Almost about half the teachers in Afghanistan were women. And till 2020, over 100,000 Afghan women were enrolled in universities.
Before the Taliban takeover, there were over 60 women legislators in the Afghan parliament—among women, about nine had held ministerial positions. There were women judges and prosecutors.
Women were allowed to own businesses—small and medium-sized. Women’s freedom and rights were one of the essential features of what may otherwise be called turdy restructuring efforts of NATO forces in Afghanistan since 2002.
Today all the trends of women empowerment in Afghanistan have been reversed to the point of no return—with fears of the Taliban imposing even stricter rules on public life. Despite initial promises of allowing women to exercise fundamental human rights under Sharia law, the Taliban has steadily curtailed women’s rights in public spaces.
Women are no longer allowed to travel with a male guardian. They cannot even enter public offices or make doctor appointments without a man accompanying them. Those who express dissent have been met with violent suppression, imprisonment, intimidation and torture. Despite the US sanctions against the regime, the Taliban continue to act resiliently in the face of international pressure.
This is nothing new. During the initial years of Taliban rule, between 1996 and 2001, women were deprived of the most basic education, music and television were banned, entertainment and sports were prohibited, and an extreme interpretation of Sharia was enforced on Afghan society. Today, history is repeating itself—with more assurances, excuses, and lies.
In the face of the Taliban’s assault on women’s rights, more and more women are finding alternatives in online education platforms. Several women students in Afghanistan have been looking to online education platforms, even as Afghan society grapples with limited internet access.
Even as the US forces and its NATO allies lost a ‘forever war’ against Taliban’s resilience, is the international community set for losing a moral battle against women’s education in Afghanistan?
For now, the answer to this question may seem affirmative. The international community has hardly any options in dealing with the Taliban. Notably, the Taliban is here to stay on firm grounds. The sanctions have so far not worked, just like on Russia. And there is barely any mechanism to hold the Taliban responsible for their actions.
The United States’ dependence on Pakistan’s historical closeness to the Taliban in sustaining dialogue had culminated in events like 9/11. Therefore, the US has also been mindful of meddling with Afghan society, further maintaining a ‘cautious distance’ since the withdrawal of its troops.
However, it is also worth considering the pitfalls of such an approach. The international community must be mindful that the Taliban’s actions may harbinger fundamentalist Islamist groups with demands for even stricter interpretations of Sharia, further paving the way for regressive measures and, at worst, even terrorism.
Therefore, the international community must rethink its (oft-morbid) strategy in Afghanistan. It is not an easy ask. But, a conversation about women’s rights in Afghanistan should be a good starting point for such measures.
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