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Essentially, the men in power have deemed that higher education is not necessary for women and that a small number can be trained in private according to need, like female gynaecologists.
“You all are informed to implement the mentioned order of suspending education of females till further notice,” wrote the Minister of Higher Education to all Afghan Universities on December 20, 2022, thereby putting in place an indefinite ban on university education for women. The next day, thousands of female students who arrived at their university campuses were turned away by Taliban guards, thereby shattering their dreams of getting a university education.
This was just the latest in a list of steps taken by the Taliban to crack down on the personal, professional and political freedom of women since they took over the country in August 2021.
One of the first pronouncements they made after taking over was to shut down school for girls. Secondary schools were supposed to reopen in March 2022, but girls were barred from returning to school, thereby forcing women to drop out after primary school.
Women who were already in University were, however, spared so far. They were permitted to access higher education provided classrooms were segregated and proper hijab was observed. With the new pronouncement, it has now become impossible for women in Afghanistan to study beyond primary school.
With this, the worst fears of the women has come true, and their hopes and dreams have been shattered. As a student who was hoping to graduate with professional degree said, “They have destroyed the only bridge that could connect me with my future.”
The Taliban’s minister of higher education has claimed that they have enacted the indefinite ban because “Islamic values” around dress rules and interactions between genders were not being followed. They claimed that women students were traveling to the University without being accompanied by a male guardian, which was against their rules. Also, they claimed that the classes were not properly segregated and hijab was not properly observed. The students claimed that neither of the allegations was true. While it is hard to ascertain whether or not the Taliban was right in the allegations made, the rest of the pronouncement showed that the Taliban considers that it is not necessary for women to study.
The ministry of higher education in the same video statement also mentioned that certain fields of study, including science and engineering was unsuitable for women, and they should not be allowed to pursue them.
There is a currently a debate raging on whether or not women should be allowed to become doctors- the focus of the argument is not, however, on whether or not women should study medicine. The focus of the argument is on whether or not a male gynaecologist can be permitted to treat the women in their families. The consensus seems to be that female gynaecologist are necessary, but that they can be trained in dedicated private facilities without needing to go to University.
Essentially, the men in power have deemed that higher education is not necessary for women and that a small number can be trained according to need.
The personal, professional and political freedom of women is being taken away in other ways too. Women are not permitted to be in public without observing full hijab. Women are not permitted to access public parks except on certain days when men are not allowed to use them. They cannot undertake long journeys without a male guardian. They are banned from most workplaces, including government offices. Essentially, women are being pushed into tight gender segregated spaces, and are being invisibilised in public. Even gym, beauty parlours and reading rooms are being pushed underground, because of rules against them.
On December 24, 2022, the Taliban has announced that women will be barred from working in local and international humanitarian organizations, one of the few areas where women had been permitted to work. The purpose of the edit was clearly to restrict women from workplaces, and it is not clear whether it will apply only to Afghan women or all women. Either way, the unintended fallout of this could be that international humanitarian organizations will close their local operations. This will adversely impact the inflow of the billions of dollars of aid which has kept millions of Afghan citizens from starvation.
Fortunately, in Afghanistan, as in Iran, some brave men are standing in solidarity with the women. When the indefinite ban on university education for women was announced, many male students walked out of the University in protest to show solidarity with their women counterparts. Women continue to protest on the streets, despite being aware of the high risk involved. Both men and women who were found guilty of “moral crimes” including robbery, adultery and homosexual acts have been flogged in public.
The Taliban has also informed that for certain crimes, punishment will be in line with the strict reading of the Sharia law, which includes public executions, public amputations and public stoning. While the exact crimes for which these punishments will be meted out is not known, protestors know that any crackdown is likely to be brutal.
There is only so much that the women (and men) in Afghanistan can do to protest against the brutal crackdown on the personal, professional and political freedom of women. It is upto the international community, including all of us, to continue speaking against the injustice meted out to Afghan women. Perhaps international pressure, and more importantly, the conditionality of international humanitarian aid may force the Taliban to rethink its position on women.
Women make up half the population. Women hold up half the sky. Women have the right to education, the right to access public spaces, and the right to take their own decisions. The systemic denial of these rights to women in one country should affect us all. As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”
Image source: ArmyAmber from Pixabay Free for Canva
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Natasha works in the development sector, where most of her experience has been in Education and Livelihoods. She is passionate about working towards gender equity, sustainability and positive climate action. And avid reader and occasional read more...
Women's Web is an open platform that publishes a diversity of views, individual posts do not necessarily represent the platform's views and opinions at all times.
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