Banned from learning

Published December 23, 2022

THE Afghan Taliban’s assault on women’s freedoms continues, as the hard-line movement that rules Afghanistan has recently announced that female students will not be able to attend classes at public and private universities. Ever since they took Kabul last year, the movement has increasingly cracked down on women’s freedoms, despite hopes that ‘Taliban 2.0’ would have shed the rigid outlook of their earlier avatar. This has clearly not been the case, as shocked female university students were turned away from their institutes on Wednesday morning. The obscurantist group had already disallowed secondary education for girls, and the university ban comes in force despite the fact that women students were segregated from their male counterparts, and adhered to the strict dress code the Taliban have enforced. But even these restrictions did not seem to be enough as the future of countless female students hangs in the balance, thanks to the warped worldview of Afghanistan’s rulers.

The religious argument against female education that the Taliban may employ holds no water, as other states governed by Islamic law, such as Saudi Arabia and Iran, have no qualms about educating women and girls. Perhaps it is mediaeval tribal and cultural codes that inspire the Taliban leadership to take these regressive steps. Whatever the motivation, the group needs to reconsider these harmful moves. The UN has criticised the university ban, as have Muslim states such as Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Türkiye and Pakistan, with Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari urging the “Afghan authorities to revisit this decision”. Though Western states are considering sanctions to punish the Taliban, these may prove counterproductive, making the group harden its already inflexible positions, and adding to the Afghan people’s miseries. Therefore, engagement is the best option to help secure Afghan women’s rights. Some elements within the Afghan administration have favoured women’s education, but these voices have been ignored by the ultraconservative Kandahar-based leadership. It is these relatively ‘liberal’ elements that need to press upon the Taliban high command the importance of women’s education.

Published in Dawn, December 23rd, 2022

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