On Sep. 17, the Taliban issued a statement calling only for boys to return to secondary schools. The statement did not include girls. When the schools reopened the next day, millions of girls across the country did not return to their classes, depriving them of their basic right to education.
Students in secondary schools are aged between 13-18 and under the former government, they were already segregated by gender and studied on separate campuses or different shifts of the day. The announcement has stirred more fears among the Afghan people. They fear this is just another measure to curb women’s rights, freedoms, and access to education and opportunities.
Over the past two decades, progress and opportunities for women were some of the most prominent achievements of the Afghan people, and access to education was at the top of those achievements. Under the Taliban rule in 1996-2001, girls were banned from going to school. Those who did seek education did so in underground schools and risked their safety, as did their teachers.
From 2002 – 2021, with help from the international community, schools reopened for boys and girls in Afghanistan, and nearly 40% of secondary students were girls. Now a month after the Taliban takeover, the Taliban has curbed much of women’s rights and freedoms. Women public servants are told to stay home until further notice, nurseries in government buildings are closed, and those who protest are met with violence. Reportedly, house-to-house searches are still ongoing, searching for women leaders as well as those officials and activists who opposed the Taliban.
Under the government of the past 20 years, Afghan women were guaranteed equal rights under the Constitution of Afghanistan, and although not always perfect in practice, they had access to justice, education, health services, and employment opportunities. Women were 25% of the parliament and served as department heads (secretaries), deputies, advisors, and so on. Those guarantees are no longer valid as the Taliban announced that women cannot serve in high-ranking jobs.
Soon after the collapse of the previous government, private universities reopened with a Taliban order to segregate classes by gender, mandating that male and female students must enter from different entrances, prohibiting any interaction between male and female students. Public universities remain shut and it is likely that women will not be allowed to attend, or they will be segregated with an imposed uniform to conform with the Taliban view of covering (hijab) for women.
Taliban statement, Sep. 17, 2021/ World Bank, Sep. 20, 2020