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Consequences of Taliban’s ban on women’s education

Introduction 

In the past two and a half years since returning to power, the Taliban have issued more than 50 restrictive orders against women. Among these, depriving women of education and employment has had the most significant impact on the current lives and future of women and the country. This article focuses on those consequences.  

Afghanistan is the only country in the world where girls and women are deprived of the right to education. A decree issued by the Taliban’s Ministry of Education on March 24, 2022 (equivalent to the beginning of the first academic year under the administration of this group) simultaneously prohibited girls in grades higher than six from attending classes. In the next step, on November 20, 2022, Neda Mohammad Nadim, the acting minister of higher education of the Taliban, officially announced the ban on the entry of women and girls into public and private universities. Although the Taliban claimed that these orders were temporary, they have not been replaced or removed, despite demands of the people of Afghanistan and the international community. As a result, girls and women continue to be deprived of education, employment, and, of course, other social rights.  

The consequences of such deprivations can be categorized into into three sections to provide a relatively detailed answer to this question. 

1. Short-term consequences 

The most prominent short-term consequences of depriving women of education are psychological shock and despair among girls and women, the impact on the economy, and the sudden regression of Afghanistan in the area of gender equality. Girls from sixth grade and above remained psychologically shocked and deeply disappointed on the first day of the academic year late March 2022] when they were prevented from attending school. The depth of this psychological shock is attributed not only to the content of the order but also to its implementation. Taliban used military force to  prevent young girls from entering school. Media and social media users captured and disseminated images of the girls’ grief from behind school gates.  

Another consequence of the Taliban’s decisions against female education is that such gender discrimination means that they are unable to shape their futures. Nine months later, on the eve of the new academic year and the start of universities, the Taliban’s Minister of Higher Education issued an official statement that instructed university officials to not allow women to attend universities. That edict came less than three months after thousands of girls had obtained permission to enter universities by participating in the university entrance exam. In addition, thousands more female university students were on the verge of graduation. The shock and despair was felt by female students as their families, and society. 

The Taliban’s actions have led to a major setback for society in the area of gender equality and women’s rights. Afghanistan had made significant progress in the first two decades of the 21st century, during which the entry of women into the education system had a tenfold increase, and the percentage of women’s presence in universities increased to 38 percent. According to one estimate, 3.8 million girls and women were students in 2018. The Taliban’s closure of school and university gates to women effectively pushed Afghanistan back to the 19th century. 

The impact on the economy was also severe. According to a UNICEF report issued in August 2022, the deprivation of girls’ education in high schools has already led to a financial loss of US$500 million in the first year of Taliban rule, equivalent to two and a half percent of the country’s gross domestic product. Add in the losses incurred by the banning of women from universities at the end of 2022, and it’s clear that the economic consequences of the women’s deprivation of education are significant.  

2. Medium-term consequences 

There is a long list of medium-term consequences from the Taliban’s decision to deprive women of education including depression, the increase in child marriages, forced marriages, increased child labour, intensified domestic and state violence against women, increased suicide rates, a widespread inclination towards online education, and increased migration.  

Local sources and family members confirm to this author that their daughters had experienced feelings of despair, withdrawal, aggression, weight loss, and disturbances in sleep patterns. These are common symptoms of depression and seem natural given the shocks that have affected female students. A Zan Times investigation from August 2023 showed that women account for 90 percent of mental health patients in the Herat provincial hospital. In addition, with girls no longer in school and families in financial distress, families are increasingly turning to child marriages as well as forced marriages of older girls. As well, young girls are being pushed into informal and low-income work as families struggle with financial issues, poverty, and hunger. In such an environment, conflicts within families usually escalate and lead to violence against girls. According to a United Nations report, nine out of 10 women in Afghanistan are exposed to some form of domestic violence. 

Furthermore, women’s resistance to Taliban decisions and their street protests against the ban on education, work, and other restrictions have been met with violence from the Taliban, with numerous reports of women and girls being beaten and tortured by the Taliban. Local sources say that many families are not willing to publicize the violence and sexual abuse against their daughters due to the traditional nature of society. Therefore, what is reported in official statistics is only a fraction of the violence against women.  

It seems likely that the actual fear of women when leaving home is more than 57 percent, as reported by the United Nations in February 2024. One of the medium-term consequences of women’s deprivation of education is the inclination towards online education, which poses its own challenges. The slow speed, low quality, and high cost of the internet as well as the difficulty of obtaining electronic equipment, even in cities, let alone rural areas, are a few of the challenges to females continuing their studies online.  

The experience of online education during the COVID-19 pandemic has shown that satisfactory results are hard to achieve in a country like Afghanistan, where the culture of online education is not established and the technical facilities are not available. 

In the past two years, suicide rates among girls and women have increased, with the deprivation of education considered to be a key factor. Also, the deprivation of women from work and education is a factor in the rise in migration from Afghanistan following the Taliban’s return to power. That outward migration from Afghanistan means that Iran has become the top destination for migrants in the world, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. 

3. Long-term consequences 

As harsh as the short- and medium-term consequences have been, the long-term consequences of women’s deprivation of education appear to be far more detrimental to both women’s individual lives and the country’s collective interest. Depriving more than half of the young population of education paints a grim picture of the country’s utilization of skilled human resources.  

Afghanistan, as a war-torn and developing country with no capacity to absorb migrant labour, is heavily dependent on skilled local resources. Now, the lack of female students and teachers, as well as the ideological indoctrination of universities and educational centres, is expected to lead to a severe shortage or lack of specialists in the next decade or two, especially in the health and education sectors. The Taliban policies will significantly undermine those sectors. 

The most effective way to empower women, combat patriarchy, increase gender equality, and prevent violence against women is to again allow women access to education. The Taliba’s decision to ban women from higher education, along with the introduction of a sharia-oriented curriculum, reinforces cultural foundations of gender discrimination and violence against women on a national scale. Afghanistan is now one of the five most dangerous countries for women. 

Conclusion 

The return of the Taliban to power in August 2021 and their extensive restrictions on women have profound and irreparable consequences for both the women of Afghanistan and for the country itself. Therefore, when dealing with any issues relating to Afghanistan, the international community, human rights organizations, political figures, and influential nations should prioritize the return of girls and women to the entire educational sector.  

*Omid Sharafat is the pseudonym of a former university professor in Kabul and a researcher of international relations.