THE fact that Afghanistan’s Taliban rulers continue to disallow girls from attending secondary school indicates that the hard-line outfit remains wedded to its regressive worldview, despite promises of change. When the Taliban swept back to power just over a year ago, there were valid concerns that the group would again crack down on women’s rights. These fears were not unfounded: while younger girls have been allowed to attend school, the older ones have been stopped from attending high school. The UN has termed the ban “tragic and shameful” and its secretary general has deplored the “year of lost knowledge and opportunity” for the girls. According to UN figures, over a million girls have been affected by the Taliban’s short-sighted decision.
Afghanistan’s de facto rulers have claimed the ban is “temporary”, while adding that they need time to remodel the curriculum according to “Islamic lines”. Moreover, the regime’s education minister has termed it a “cultural issue”, saying that many rural Afghans don’t want their teenage daughters to go to school. These excuses are mostly without merit. From a human rights, as well as a religious and cultural, perspective, the Taliban’s ban on girls’ education is indefensible. If the Taliban claim religious sanction for stopping older girls from learning, they must be asked why Saudi Arabia and Iran — states run by religious law — allow girls to attend high school. Moreover, while much of the Afghan population is conservative, the Taliban appear to be foisting their own vision upon the people. It is hard to believe that culturally appropriate educational institutions cannot be set up to allow Afghan schoolgirls to continue their education. What is missing is the Taliban’s intention to educate girls. Furthermore, the high school ban makes no sense when women can attend universities, albeit with restrictions. Instead of coming up with lame excuses, Afghanistan’s rulers need to speedily open girls’ high schools, while Muslim states particularly should put pressure on the regime to do away with this archaic ban.
Published in Dawn, September 20th, 2022