Today, it has been 500 days that girls above the sixth grade in Afghanistan have been deprived of education by the Taliban, the terrorist group.
On 23 March 2022, the first day of the academic year in Afghanistan, the Ministry of Education under the Taliban announced all girls’ middle and high schools shut down “until further notice”, while thousands of girls were waiting behind the gates of the schools to attend their classes.
Since then, Afghan women and girls have been gradually excluded from education, and now only elementary school girls are allowed to go to the schools or to the religious schools under the control of the Taliban.
In the last year and a half, the Taliban have issued more than eight decrees, official letters, and orders aimed at restricting women’s and girls’ education.
This series of decrees started with the shutdown of girls’ middle and high schools and continued with the gender segregation of the university’s classrooms, the compulsory mask and long black dresses, restrictions in the choice of majors in the Kankor exam, prohibiting girls’ graduation ceremonies, disallowing girls’ studying in the public and private universities and banning girls’ education in the private educational centers. The last decision in this regard has been disallowing girls to participate in the Kankor exam held by private universities.
The Taliban’s opposition to girls’ education was a part of this group’s policy to completely exclude women from society; a policy which is called “gender apartheid” by Afghan protesting women.
Cultural Issues and Education as a Mubah Act
On 23 March 2022, the Ministry of Education under the Taliban wrote in its announcement justifying the closure of girls’ schools: “When a comprehensive plan is prepared in accordance with the Sharia law, and the Afghan tradition and culture and approved by the leader of the Islamic Emirate, high schools will be officially notified.”
Thereafter, facing widespread criticism by the Afghan citizens and the international community, the senior members of this group have regularly tried to justify the ban on girls’ education.
During a trip to Uruzgan province on 11 September 2022, Noorullah Munir, the former acting Minister of Education, said that girls’ schools were shut down “for cultural reasons”.
He claimed that people didn’t like their 16 and 17-year-old daughters going to school and if the government didn’t listen to them, they would “revolt”.
This claim was condemned widely by the people in different provinces of Afghanistan; even the elders of Uruzgan province condemned it, claiming the Taliban as “the only obstacle” to girls’ education in the country.
On 27 September 2020, the Acting Minister of Promoting Virtue, Preventing Evil of the Taliban, Mohammad Khalid Hanafi called education a “mubah” act (an act that does not involve God’s judgment), while following the “emir” [from the Taliban’s perspective, Mullah Hebbatullah Akhundzada] as a “wajib” (obligatory) act.
“Everywhere we go, people talk about education,” he said. “Education is a mubah act and this is a scientific statement. Secular education is mubah, and when there is a conflict between the mubah and the orders of the Emir, following the Emir’s order is obligatory.”
The meaning of his remark was that Mullah Hebbatullah Akhunzada, the Taliban’s so-called Amir al-Mu’minin, has issued an order prohibiting girls’ education, and they believe that following his order is obligatory.
However, these justifications have always been challenged by the citizens of Afghanistan, Islamic countries, and reputable Islamic academic centers, considering them against the “Islamic teachings”.
In response to the above justifications, Afghan women’s rights activists have said that education is a “basic human right”, beyond the scope of “mubah” and “wajib”, and shutting girls’ schools down is a violation of their human rights.
The Ineffective Attempts by the International Community
From the issuance of the first order on girls’ secondary and high schools’ shutdown until now that women’s education has been completely banned, rescinding this ban has been one of the main conditions of the international community for interacting with the Taliban and even recognizing them.
The issue of girls’ education has been discussed in almost every meeting of the United Nations, other international meetings about Afghanistan, and in every meeting of the UN officials and the western countries with the Taliban; tens of statements have been issued on the issue.
In a statement published on its official Facebook page in January 2023, the Office of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) mentioned the issue of banning girls’ education.
Additionally, in recent weeks, two UN Deputy Secretary-General, Amina Mohammed and Martin Griffiths visited Afghanistan and talked to senior members of the Taliban about rescinding the ban on women’s education and work.
However, all these efforts have not yet led to rescinding a single extremist order of this terrorist group against women, and even they have not been able to decelerate the pace of restrictions against women.
The UN and the international community’s failure to rescind prohibitions against women has caused Afghan women to accuse the international community, especially the UNAMA, of “whitewashing the Taliban.”
“For the past year and a half, UNAMA officials in Afghanistan have been trying to whitewash and normalize the Taliban and mislead the public opinion of the world,” wrote Manizha Bakhtari, Afghanistan’s ambassador to Austria, on Twitter on 27 December 2022.
“Ms. Otunbayeva and Mr. Potzel are standing against the Afghan people with their unfair reports and by ignoring serious violations of human rights and crimes against humanity and reducing it to cultural relativism,” she added.
After the two UN senior officials’ visit to Afghanistan, the Afghanistan Powerful Women Movement also criticized the organization’s “interactive approach” towards the Taliban.
“Protesting women strongly criticize the UN and ask it to stand with the Afghan women and defend their rights instead of collaborating with a criminal group,” said the movement in a statement.
The movement also accused the United Nations of tending to legitimize and recognize the Taliban.
A Change in the Protesting Women’s Approach
Afghan women were the protesting vans against the Taliban’s decision to ban girls’ education.
To demand the right to education, they went to the streets and confronted the Taliban fighters, issued announcements, and raised their voices.
At first, protesting women were demanding the reopening of girls’ schools, but they changed their approach when the Taliban issued further orders in relation to banning girls’ education. Now, they reject Talibani education altogether.
In their statement published on the occasion of International Day of Education, Afghan protesting women clearly stated: “We the protesting women don’t want Talibani school, Talibani University, and Talibani education.”
The change in the Afghan protesting women’s approach towards education under Taliban rule is caused by the change in their general approach towards the situation in Afghanistan.
The protesting women in Afghanistan say that they no longer believe in an interactive approach towards the Taliban and are “planning” and working hard to overthrow this group.
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