Women’s rights to an education have been under attack by the Taliban since the terrorist group took over in August 2021. The group continues to roll out restrictions on women and girls in Afghanistan everyday. At this moment, girls are not allowed to go to university or secondary school. Even private courses are banned for girls over grade six and in some parts of the country, even lower.
While these restrictions have been in place for almost 2.5 years, and while the future implications are not as visible now, future loss that results from preventing girls from attending schools will be immeasurable. Much needed human capital is being wasted by the Taliban as women are not allowed to enter the workforce now and in the future, women will lack the skills and competencies even further.
In the meantime, innovation is lagging as there is less diversity of thought and skills and female voices leading the drive for innovation are missing. Economic losses could be huge from the lack of innovation and human capital from intelligent female professionals if the Taliban continues to take away the right of education from Afghan women and girls.
The UN Sustainable Development Group (UNSDG) estimates that restricting access to education led to a 21% decrease in employment levels of women by mid-2022 and a GDP loss of $1 billion USD per year. Afghanistan’s economy is already suffering as it “relies heavily on external support and its private sector is weak.”
Given the already fragile economy, it is crucial that Afghanistan strengthens its economy by building its human capital and the private sector. However, limiting the education of women and excluding them socially and economically means that the Afghan economy will not have the opportunity to recover if they exclude roughly half of the population (48.3%) from entering the workforce with relevant knowledge and skills.
Furthermore, from 2001-2021, women transformed the political, economic, and social scene for Afghan women as well by receiving an education and using it to pursue jobs in any field, contribute to their communities and societies. Women had the opportunity to be politically active and loud.
According to the UN Women, “By 2021, Afghan women had secured 69 out of 249 seats in parliament, women were negotiating peace across the country, and even a law was in place allowing women to include their names on their children’s birth certificates and identification cards. There was a Ministry of Women’s Affairs, an independent human rights commission, and a law-making violence against women a crime. But more than this, women were visible—from law, politics, and journalism, to sidewalks, parks, and schools.”
The social and political progress made for women during the time where education was accessible and promoted for women demonstrates how there is a direct correlation between higher education for women and progress in Afghanistan.
In a state where education is limited for women, this could only mean that progress in Afghanistan will be stunted in terms of political and social growth. Afghan women worked hard to improve the status of women and create a space for them in society.
Decreasing the political participation of women leads to a larger gender divide, further increasing the gender apartheid that exists in Afghanistan.
Even in the healthcare sector, there is a direct relationship between women’s education and health. When women were able to pursue education, the number of midwives and midwifery education increased tremendously as well, lowering the mortality rates of infants and women during birth. There was a direct correlation from increased educational opportunities, increased number of active midwives, and a lower maternal mortality. From 2000 to 2015 as midwifery education expanded, maternal mortality decreased by 64%.
The long-term impact of women being prevented from education is not only the removal from the social spheres, and economic losses, women’s health will also suffer as the number of midwives decreases with restricted education and maternal mortality increases.
Education should be protected because not only is it a violation, but allowing women to pursue education creates a opportunities for women where they are able to feel confident to make their own decisions, amplify their own voices, and advocate for the rights to education, health, autonomy, etc., and improve the state of Afghanistan politically, socially, and economically.
UNSDG; World Bank; UN Women; The Lancet Global Health