The Afghan Taliban has disallowed female students from attending classes at public and private universities, arguing they were not following the proper dress code. For the Taliban rulers, dress code is not a person’s choice and that it is more important than education. Ever since they returned to Kabul in August last year, the ruling Taliban have forcefully come down on women’s liberties although it was expected that the group would have given up the rigid outlook of their rule in 90s. That has clearly not been the case: the shocked female university students were prevented to enter the gates at their institutes.
Pertinently, the obscurantist Taliban had already stopped secondary education for girls and the recent university ban comes into play though the women students were segregated from their male counterparts in classrooms . Besides the students followed the strict dress code (Hijab / burqa from head to toe) which the Taliban have enforced. Yet, the big ban has come.
That the Taliban leadership supports the ban through their religious argument against female education, has not gone well because other countries governed by Islamic law, such as Saudi Arabia and Iran, have no problem with educating women and girls. Possibly the mediaeval tribal and cultural codes motivate the Taliban rulers to take these regressive steps.
Meanwhile the United Nations has not welcomed the university ban. Muslim countries such as Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Qatar and Pakistan have criticized the move. Foreign Minister of Pakistan Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari has urged the “Afghan authorities to revisit this decision”.
If the West is looking serious in slapping sanctions against the Taliban, it is not out of place to mention that the sanctions are likely to prove counterproductive on two fronts: one, the group can further toughen its stance; two, that can increase the Afghan people’s hardships.
The best way forward to help secure Afghan women’s rights is engagement with the Taliban leadership. Some elements within the Afghan administration have voiced support for women’s education, but these voices have not been heeded to by the ultraconservative Kandahar-based leadership. These relatively liberal elements should talk to the Taliban high command, urging them not to ignore the importance of women’s education although it is hard to convince the top leadership.
No civilized society can afford to survive without educating their half of the population. Women education is backbone for every nation and it plays a key role in producing women doctors, teachers, nurses, etc.
While the Taliban have banned women from studying in universities, the international community has banned the entire Afghan state by ignoring its plight. Afghanistan faced a war for about forty years, losing everything from education, economic strength, cultural harmony and possibly hopes .
In July last year, a group of Afghan children were in the fields at a village in Helmand province; they were looking after sheep. One child saw a metal object that was half buried in the ground. The children got around the object, arguing who saw it first. Little did the little ones knew that the hidden thing was a death trap in fact.
Suddenly, the object exploded. It was actually a mortar shell that had been left behind, most likely by the Americans. This, unfortunately, is a routine in Afghanistan — the country which has seen decades of conflict and has left behind such death traps in almost all the provinces. In the explosion, one child died immediately; three died at a hospital.
An NGO that was working to remove land mines and mortar shells expelled its staff after the Taliban took power in August 2021.
It seems that the world has found solace in leaving Afghanistan alone when the truth is that in this age, no country can progress in isolation. On the other hand, the Afghan Taliban will find a suitable situation to toughen their stand further because they have nothing to lose and there is no engagement with them at the international level.
As of today, the Taliban government continues to be unrecognized by the international community, the UN is yet to be able to persuade the US to unfreeze the billions of dollars of Afghan currency reserves. Why? Two reasons are given: one, the Taliban government would receive the money. Two, the unfrozen money would cause the diplomatic isolation of the country. Agree with this logic, but let us understand that to prevent more deaths of Afghan children, the funds need to be unfrozen. The US had earlier announced that it would release about $3.5bn of the amount to help the children, but would ensure that the amount would not go through the Taliban.
While the latest Taliban directive has been unwelcome to most parts of the world , Afghan women have also expressed their disapproval over the move. The world, Islamic world included, has recognised that women are entitled to receive education and serve society — the fact encouraging the Afghan women to raise their voice against the current rulers there.
However just like the Afghan children who die when mortar shells or land mines explode under their feet, Afghan women face oblivion. They are likely to be entirely alone in tackling this new form of exclusion and isolation — both from education (a basic human right) and recognition as equal citizens in their homeland.
[Photo by USAID, Public Domain]
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.
Sheikh Shabir Kulgami is a Kashmiri (Indian) political commentator, analyst and columnist. He writes extensively on South Asia.