International Women’s Day: The Exclusion of Afghan Women | New infographics

Millions of female Afghan students have been unable to attend secondary schools and universities for more than a year following a ban by the ruling Taliban.

The United Nations said on Wednesday that Afghanistan, under the Taliban government, is the “most repressive country in the world” for women’s rights, with authorities effectively imprisoning women and girls in their homes.

“It has been heartbreaking to see their methodical, deliberate and systematic efforts to push Afghan women and girls out of the public sphere,” said Roza Otunbayeva, head of the UN mission in Afghanistan, in a statement marking the International Women’s Day.

2.5 million girls out of school

The Taliban have banned girls above sixth grade from going to school since they came to power in 2021.

Leaders first gave a shortage of teachers, lack of school infrastructure for gender segregation and other reasons for continued school closures. Primary schools were allowed to operate.

Some senior Taliban leaders have called for schools to reopen, saying there is no valid reason in Islam for the ban.

According UNESCOCurrently, 80% of Afghan girls and young women of school age – a total of 2.5 million people – are out of school.

The Taliban’s decision to keep girls’ schools closed has reversed significant gains in women’s education over the past 20 years.


“Live with dignity”

Hosna Jalil was not even 10 years old when the Taliban came to power in 1996. During his reign between 1996 and 2001, education for women was prohibited except for religious education.

Jalil, from a remote village in southeastern Ghazni province, was among those affected by the ban. Determined to continue her education, she joined a community religious education program held at a mosque that taught the formal curriculum without the knowledge of the Taliban authorities.

She reminded that all children should be ready to take out their religious books and hide their other books in case Taliban officials raid the mosque.

Amanah Nashenas, a 45-year-old Afghan teacher, collects books from a school in Kabul, Afghanistan, December 22, 2022 [Ebrahim Noroozi/AP Photo]
Amanah Nashenas, a 45-year-old teacher, collects books at a school in Kabul [File: Ebrahim Noroozi/AP Photo]

“We would have stopped breathing because we didn’t know what would happen if they found out, if one of us made a mistake and if they found out what was in our bags. Sometimes they even checked our bags,” Jalil recalls. “That’s when you could feel the brutality as a kid,” she added.

After the fall of the Taliban in 2001, Jalil continued his education and earned a degree in physics from Kabul University.

In 2018, at the age of 26, Jalil was the first woman ever appointed to a senior ministerial post in Afghanistan, serving as Deputy Minister of Policy in the Ministry of Women’s Affairs. She then served various government departments, including the Ministry of Petroleum and the Office of the President.

Jalil had moved to the United States on a government scholarship months before Kabul fell to the Taliban in August 2021.

In Septemberthe Taliban replaced the Ministry of Women’s Affairs with the Ministry for the Propagation of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice.

“The 20-year gap between the two Taliban eras has changed people. There was an understanding of how a person, male and female, can have their basic rights and live with dignity,” Jalil said.

“The only difference is that the women are making more noise than before and they will end up in the streets. Women were quieter in the 1990s, and that’s it. There is no difference on the Taliban side,” she said.

Afghan women chant slogans during a protest against the ban on university education for women, in Kabul, Afghanistan, December 22, 2022 [AP Photo]
Afghan women chant slogans during a protest in Kabul against the ban on university education for women [File: AP Photo]

Since August 2021, the Taliban has issued more than 80 orders and decrees, many of which have tightened the group’s grip on Afghan women, according to data compiled by the United States Institute of Peace (USIP).

According to USIP, some of these orders include closing girls’ schools, restricting women’s freedom of movement, and prohibiting women from accepting government jobs.


“America, the West are responsible for this situation”

Mahbouba Seraj, an activist, chose to live and work in her own country as tens of thousands of Afghans fled the country following the Taliban’s return to power. She hopes to bring change in every capacity she can.

“We are in a state of absolute sadness and disappointment, but we are also waiting to see what will happen,” Seraj said.

With women also barred from universities in December, Seraj said this would lead to a shortage of professionals, including in the health sector.

“It is [ban on female education] literally pushes the country towards destruction,” she said.

A Taliban guard stands guard as a woman walks past in Kabul, Afghanistan, December 26, 2022 [Ebrahim Noroozi / AP Photo]
A Taliban soldier stands guard as a woman walks past Kabul [File: Ebrahim Noroozi/AP Photo]

Anisa Shaheed works with US-based Amu Television. She fled the country with many other journalists, civil society activists and soldiers after the Taliban seized power.

“The previous Afghan government had dozens of problems, but girls had the right to study, work and participate in society. But the Taliban took away all women’s rights,” Anisa said.

“The deprivation of education, work and social life causes women to suffer from mental problems. Girls are forced to marry. Afghan women have been abandoned. America and the West are responsible for this situation of the people, especially the women of Afghanistan. she says.

25% drop in female employment

Since the collapse of the Western-backed government of President Ashraf Ghani in August 2021, female employment in Afghanistan has fallen by a quarter, according to estimates by the International Labor Organization (ILO).

“Restrictions on girls and women have serious consequences for their education and labor market prospects,” said Ramin Behzad, Senior Coordinator for Afghanistan at the ILO, in a statement accompanying his 2022 report March 7.


In December 2022, the Taliban published an ordinance prohibiting women from working in NGOs. According to UNOCHAwomen make up 35 to 45 percent of the NGO workforce in the country.

However, Jalil said that in places where women are allowed to work, such as in health care or domestic jobs, they do so based on verbal agreements between the organization and local Taliban representatives.

“They [the Taliban] verbally approved it, giving themselves the option of withdrawing it at any time,” Jalil said.

A Save the Children midwife offers five-month-old Zarmina, 25, a prenatal check-up in Jawzjan province, northern Afghanistan, October 2, 2022 [Save the Children via AP]
A Save the Children midwife offers five-month-old Zarmina, 25, a prenatal check-up in Jawzjan province, northern Afghanistan [File: Save the Children via AP Photo]

“Afghanistan will survive”

last May, UN Women estimated that restrictions on women have cost Afghanistan $1 billion in losses, or about 5% of the country’s GDP.

At least 2.7 million Afghans fled the country in 2021, becoming the third highest number displaced population worldwide, according to the UNHCR.

Food insecurity in rural and urban areas of Afghanistan is at an all-time high and, according to world food programone in three people is hungry and two million children are malnourished.

An Afghan woman cleans the shoes of a customer on the street in Kabul, Afghanistan, March 5, 2023. [Ebrahim Noroozi/AP Photo]
An Afghan woman cleans a customer’s shoes on a street in Kabul [File: Ebrahim Noroozi/AP Photo]

Seraj, the activist, says the brain drain from Afghanistan is a blow to Afghanistan. Many of the tens of thousands who fled were well educated and trained in a variety of important skills.

“We have lost so many of our national treasures,” Seraj said.

Seraj believes that the future of women and girls will depend on the extent to which the international community as well as the Afghan people support change in the country.

“If there is that will, then Afghanistan will survive. And not only that, Afghanistan will survive. Afghanistan will prosper. I can promise you that. But as long as there is the will, it will take it to make it happen.

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