This week, nearly 6 months after the US forces left Afghanistan, Naila Shahid shares some of the news and links since August of 2021 describing the impact of the Taliban takeover on girls’ education there.
With the Taliban takeover of the Afghan government last August, many expressed fears that the substantial gains made in girls education in the past 20 years might be lost. Although an estimated 3.7 million children remain out-of-school in Afghanistan – 60% of them girls, according to World Bank reports, girls’ secondary school attendance increased 32% from 2003 to 2017. By 2018, girls made up almost 38 percent — 3.8 million — of students in the country; by comparison only 5,000 Afghan girls were enrolled in schools in 2001. Over the same period, the presence of women in higher education also rose, and the gender disparity in higher education enrollment decreased over time in favor of female students entering Afghan universities. For example, there were only 1,000 female participants in the Kankor exam (the University entrance exam) in 2003, while this number jumped to an all-time high – 78,000 – in 2013. In 2020, Shamsia Alizada, the daughter of a coal miner from Kabul, received the highest score out of 170,000 students on the entrance exam.
When the US troops pulled out, however, and the Taliban seized control of the country in 2021, many businesses and institutions, including schools, shut down. Since that time, public elementary schools have reopened again and in September 2021 the Taliban government announced the reopening of government high schools but only for boys, saying only that “a safe learning environment” was needed before older girls could return to school. Private schools, including girls secondary schools and universities, only started operating again in 10 out of 34 provinces, after they negotiated with local Taliban leadership.
In October 2021, Afghan officials announced that girls would be able to resume attendance in government secondary schools, but only after the development of a new educational framework. That statement did not give a time frame for reopening and made thousands of girls fearful about their exams, their plans to graduate, their university applications and their academic future in general. In November 2021, the Afghan government added a statement about reopening secondary schools for girls, simply stating“good news coming soon”. As of January of 2022, the Taliban are pledging/promising to open all girls schools after the Afghan New Year in late March, offering a deadline for the first time. According to the Taliban’s Deputy Minister of Culture and Information, the major barriers for reopening the secondary schools for girls have been the “capacity” as they plan to completely segregate girls and boys schools.
Depriving girls of their educational rights has contributed to continuing unrest. Reports have shared the stories of women and girls in some areas of Afghanistan (mostly urban) who are raising their voices against the closure of girls’ secondary schools and taking action. Among those voices:
Roya, 18, who was supposed to graduate from high school and was preparing for the university entrance exam, declared:
“I always dreamed of being a lawyer and had been preparing to get into law school, but now with the Taliban taking over I don’t think I have a future.”
Rahela Nussrat, 17,in her final year of high school and and unable to attend classes since the takeover, lamented:
“When the Afghan government fell, I lost my right to education, this was the first time I cried specifically because of my gender.”
Zakia Menhas, a medical student at Kabul university waiting for her college to reopen, told NPR’s Lulu Garcia-Navarro:
“We really – just fed up – and it is really devastating for us. Like, we had hopes. We had dreams to chase. And now it is just a dark place. And we cannot find that light. And we are just broken.”
Despite the challenges, some are managing to persevere.
Shabana Basij- Rasikh whogrew up in Kabul in the 1990s, has been operating Afghanistan’s only private boarding school for girls – the School of Leadership, Afghanistan (SOLA), explained
“Education transforms lives and societies. It’s transformed my life and it’s transformed my Afghan society these past 20 years.”
Angela Ghayour, who witnessed the civil war in Afghanistan in 1992 as well, could not bear to see girl’s deprived of education once again. After three months with little progress from the Taliban, she used social media to bring together 400 volunteers and started the Online Herat school to provide educational resources to women and girls. As she put it:
“I feel this school is the result of all of my pain, my agonies and experiences. Our motto is, the pen instead of the gun.”
In the western province of Herat, the teachers’ union, 40 school principals and parents pushed back and reopened the schools in October. However, they had to negotiate with the local Taliban officials to have completely segregated classes and only female teachers. The parents are determined. Mastoura who now escorts her two daughters to school every day is resolute.
“We had concerns, and we have them still, But daughters must get an education. Without education, your life is held back.”
A timeline of the reported events:
September 20, 2021- Afghanistan’s new government is likely to impose severe restrictions on girls’ education, The New York Times
September 24, 2021- Deputy UN chief urges girls’ education is a must for Afghanistan, Thompson Reuters Foundation News
October 11, 2021- What will happen to girl’s education under Taliban rule?, Thompson Reuters Foundation News
October 13, 2021- Amnesty International published testimonies from teachers and students in Afghanistan, Amnesty International
October 18, 2021- Taliban stops school for girls over 12, CBS News
October 22- 2021- Afghan girls determined to return to school, CBS News
October 29, 2021- Online learning (secretly) continues for girls in Afghanistan, Global Citizen
October 31, 2021- Afghan girls think their education doesn’t have a future, The New York Times
October 31, 2021- Afghan women’s education in limbo, Deadline
November 02, 2021- Afghanistan’s government says it will soon announce “good news” about girl’s education, Reuters
— Naila Shahid