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Without Women, Afghanistan Has No Future

In December 2022, the Taliban, the de facto authority in Afghanistan, banned women from public and private universities until further notice. Reportedly, this decision was partly due to female students allegedly not adhering to the Taliban interpretation of the Islamic dress code and interacting with their male colleagues. However, some statements from Neda Mohammad Nadeem, acting higher education minister, suggests that the Taliban also did not agree with some of the courses studied by women. As he mentioned in an interview, “[women] were studying agriculture and engineering, but this didn’t match Afghan culture. [Women] should learn, but not in areas that go against Islam and Afghan honor.” Furthermore, the Taliban has banned girls from primary school and so imposed total ban on female education. Later, Abdel Rahman Habib, spokesman for the ministry of economy, announced that women were also banned from working for national and international NGOs.

In this picture taken on December 23, 2022, Marwa, a student speaks during an interview with AFP at her home in Kabul. - Marwa was just a few months away from becoming the first woman in her Afghan family to go to university — instead, she will watch achingly as her brother goes without her. Women are now banned from attending university in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan, where they have been steadily stripped of their freedoms over the past year. "Had they ordered women to be beheaded, even that would have been better than this ban," Marwa told AFP at her family home in Kabul. [Photo credit: Ahmad SAHEL ARMAN/AFP via Getty Images]

The Taliban takeover of Afghanistan in August 2021 turned back time on the progress achieved over the last twenty years and ultimately resulted in women and girls being effectively removed from the Afghani public life. While initially, the Taliban promised that women would be able to “exercise their rights within Sharia law”, including being able to work and study, these promises were merely empty words. As Angelina Jolie emphasized, “Overnight, 14 million Afghan women and girls lost their right to go to high school or university, their right to work, and their freedom of movement.” Ms. Sima Bahous, UN Under-Secretary-General and UN Women Executive Director, stressed that “there are no women in the Taliban’s cabinet, no Ministry of Women’s Affairs, thereby effectively removing women’s right to political participation. Women are, for the most part, also restricted from working outside the home, and are required to cover their faces in public and to have a male chaperone when they travel.”

Women were barred from most jobs outside the home. According to one of the restrictions imposed at the end of 2021, only women whose jobs could not be done by men were allowed to come to work, for example, limited jobs in education, health, and some policing jobs. According to the same announcement, the only jobs that women were allowed to do for the Kabul government was to clean female bathrooms. And indeed, to this day, women hold no cabinet positions in the de facto administration, or any other positions of power. The de facto administration abolished the Ministry of Women’s Affairs and by doing so, ultimately removed women from political participation. Women judges, prosecutors, and lawyers have fled the country or been sidelined and replaced by former Taliban fighters and madrasa graduates without any legal training. Initially, and before the new restrictions introduced in December 2022, the Taliban has banned girls from secondary education, grades 7-12. Contrary to prior commitments, the de facto authorities did not allow girls back to secondary schools. This affects over 1.1. million girls in Afghanistan.

The decision to ban women from universities adds to the omnipresent suppression of women’s rights in Afghanistan and their removal from the public square. However, women in Afghanistan are not silent. The decision to ban women from university education was followed by protests, including outside of Kabul University and Nangahar University in eastern Afghanistan. In Nangahar University, male medical students walked out of their exam in a sign of protest. In Herat, reportedly, the Taliban have used a water cannon to disperse a group of women protesting against the ban.

On December 25, 2022, a few major international non-governmental organizations (NGOs), including Care International, the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) and Save the Children, announced that they had to halt their work in Afghanistan after women were banned from working for them by the Taliban as they were unable to continue without their female staff.

The Taliban continue to erase women and girls from the public square, and confine them to their homes. Sooner or later, the Taliban will learn (the hard way) that Afghanistan does not have a future without women and girls. The international community must stand in unity with women and girls of Afghanistan and not let the Taliban get away with this persecution of women and girls.


(c) 2022, Forbes



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