A big question mark hangs over girls education in Afghanistan

By Iqea Memon

Last month the Taliban in Afghanistan opened secondary schools for boys but no such announcement has been made for the girls – despite promising the world that they would not stop girls from getting an education.

Women advocates around the world, including Malala Yousafzai, have also spoken about it.

Photo by Kimberly Farmer for Unsplash

Sahar Education, a USA-based NGO facilitating girls’ education in Northern Afghanistan for the last 20 years, is waiting for the newly formed interim Afghan government to open secondary schools for girls. Sahar builds and repairs schools and offers various training and programmes for girls, teachers, and men.

One of their Board of Directors, Dr Shinkai Hakimi, said: “We are not going anywhere, and Taliban at some point have to do something with schools, and we are ready to work with them in any capacity for the sake of educating our girls.

“Our high schools are not open, but our primary schools are. In general, there is a sense of fear, and people are not going out or even letting their kids go out to schools, just because of the fear of what they experienced 20 years prior, but fortunately for us, we haven’t had any issues with our students that are going to schools.”

According to the UNESCO 20-year review report on Afghanistan, the girls’ literacy rate has seen a rise at all levels since 2001, from almost zero girls in primary schools to 2.5 million by 2018 and from 5,000 to around 9,0000 in higher education. Girls not returning to schools can set back the progress that has been made in the past two decades.

Dr Hakimi wants girls back to schools as soon as possible because boys have been back to schools, but girls have not. 

While the world awaits to see girls returning to their schools, a Taliban spokesperson said a “safe learning environment” was needed for girls to return to schools, but no further explanation was given. 

This edict has created an environment of worry regarding female education because the Taliban, in their previous rule, also imposed prohibitions on girls’ education, and girls were forced to stay at home or study in secrecy.

According to a Sahar fellow and programme manager, Shogofa Amini: “Taliban are exactly the same people as they were 20 years ago, but the difference about this generation is that it is speaking up. I hope that the UN and other countries pay attention to this because it is not only about Afghan women but about women’s rights.”

Rahela Nussrat, 17, told Al Jazeera that she and millions of other Afghan girls have had their basic right of education taken from them. Girls like her are speaking to various media outlets about being worried for their future. 

Rahela Nussrat, 17, told Al Jazeera that she and millions of other Afghan girls have had their basic right of education taken from them. Girls like her are speaking to various media outlets about being worried for their future. 

Amini said: “What scares me most is that this ban will add to data of high maternal mortality and high child marriages. Women, during the past 20 years, were in business, politics, robotics, music. They were travelling the world and getting scholarships. There was so much hope for them, but girls staying at home is the opposite of what they were doing. Afghanistan goes under the dark ages again. There will be no future for Afghan women.”

A ray of hope has been seen on the issue as foreign ministers belonging to Muslim majority countries, supported by Western diplomats as well, are considering going to Kabul to hold the discussion with the Taliban about the exclusion of women and girls from education. 

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