Since the Taliban took power in Afghanistan on August 15, 2021, they have clamped down hard on education. Women and girls are denied access to secondary or higher education, and due to the Taliban’s curriculum requirements and poor treatment of teachers, the general quality of education has plummeted as well.
Boys struggle in Afghanistan’s new educational environment
The Taliban have received international criticism for preventing women and girls from attending secondary schools and universities. Still, their severe effects on boys’ education in Afghanistan have received less attention. Due to the Taliban’s harsh educational practices, which have resulted in the exodus of qualified teachers and regressive curriculum modifications, boys are suffering too. There is a greater fear of going to school, a decline in attendance and a loss of optimism for the future. Consequently, the Taliban run the risk of producing a lost generation.
Since assuming power, the Taliban’s impact on boys’ education in Afghanistan is detailed in the Human Rights Watch report entitled “Schools are Failing Boys Too.” The report highlights regressive curriculum changes, an uptick in corporal punishment, and the dismissal of female teachers, posing a threat to Afghan boys’ education. While global attention has focused on the Taliban’s bans on girls’ and women’s secondary and higher education, the substantial harm inflicted on the male education system has garnered less notice. The report’s author contends that the Taliban’s actions seriously undermine both boys’ and girls’ education in Afghanistan, potentially leaving behind a lost generation without a quality education and jeopardizing the nation’s educational foundation.
Between June and August 2022 and March and April 2023, Human Rights Watch remotely interviewed five parents and 22 boys in grades 8 through 12 across the provinces of Kabul, Balkh, Herat, Farah, Parwan, Bamiyan, Nangarhar and Daikundi. The Taliban, in a sweeping move, dismissed all female teachers from boys’ schools. This action left many boys with incompetent instructors or no professors at all. Boys now endure a surge in physical punishment, including public beatings for minor infractions like owning a cell phone or getting a haircut. The Taliban’s removal of subjects like athletics, English, the arts and civics has led to a decline in educational quality.
Worsening economic and humanitarian challenges in Afghanistan are forcing boys to leave school and aid their families. In a landscape with limited mental health care, boys experience rising anxiety, depression and other mental health issues. Though the Taliban hasn’t explicitly barred boys from school beyond the 6th grade, their actions still threaten the education of all children. Afghanistan’s breach of international law, specifically the right to education for all children, is evident. The Taliban’s systemic discrimination against women and girls adversely affects boys, reinforcing negative gender stereotypes and intensifying financial pressure to support their families.
Women and girls’ right to education from an Islamic perspective
The Taliban have made education worse for all children. Still, their exclusion of women and girls from post-primary education is particularly abhorrent.
In Islam, women’s education is regarded as a fundamental and sacred right, aligned with key principles outlined in the Universal Islamic Declaration of Human Rights. Adopted by the Islamic Council of Europe on September 19, 1981, this declaration upholds the sanctity of various rights, including life, property, religion and the intellect. Rooted in the Holy Quran and international human rights law, these cardinal rights, particularly the right to education, are essential to the deen (faith). The Quran emphasizes the significance of intellect (al-aql) as a divine endowment, allowing individuals to make moral decisions and strive for harmony (Q 17:70, 95:4, 2:30–34, 33:72). Reason serves as the basis for distinguishing right from wrong. For girls, education is not only integral to their faith but also pivotal in expanding knowledge, fostering critical thinking, and molding them into exemplary Muslims and community members. It empowers women and girls to harness the blessings bestowed upon them by Allah.
Education is a divine commandment for both genders. The Quran and Hadith leave no doubt that women, like men, must pursue knowledge. With over 800 references to ilm (knowledge) and its derivatives, the Holy Quran underscores its value. Allah commands both men and women to seek knowledge and punishes ignorance. “Read” (iqra) is how the very first revelation to Prophet Mohammed (peace be upon him) begins: “Read in the name of your Lord, who formed humanity from a blood clot (Q 96:1–5) A basic principle of Quranic interpretation is that when a commandment is revealed, the feminine gender is likewise encompassed by it, regardless of whether the masculine version of the word is employed. Ignoring this principle undermines fundamental Islamic tenets for women, including prayer, fasting, pilgrimage and almsgiving. The Hadith and Sunnah affirm the obligation for men and women to pursue higher education. By keeping women and girls from going to school, you are stopping them from carrying out Allah’s sacred mandate and interfering with their eternity.
The Taliban’s educational policies violate international law
The Taliban not only defy the laws of Allah, but they also violate the laws of man by denying education to their citizens. The Taliban regime must not overlook its international obligations under international human rights law and customary international law. Afghanistan became a party to the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women in 2003. According to this convention, countries must eradicate stereotypes about gender roles from all levels of education and society.
Corporal punishment in schools also violates children’s rights, causing dehumanization, needless suffering and detriment to their growth, academic performance, and mental health. The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child emphasizes every child’s right to an education in a violence-free environment, and international law prohibits all forms of corporal punishment. Afghanistan, having adopted the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1994, is committed to ensuring children’s rights to safety, education, and protection from violence.
There are relatively few policy options to deal with the Taliban’s stringent restrictions or prompt behavioral change. The group has shown resistance to international pressure. The Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) and Muslim-majority countries have called on the Taliban to lift their bans, but no tangible changes have occurred, and the likelihood of increased OIC involvement remains uncertain.
International sanctions, thus far, have yielded no apparent results. Afghanistan’s dire situation struggles to garner attention amidst the international focus on issues in Ukraine and Gaza. It’s crucial for the global community to persist in highlighting the Taliban’s mistreatment of oppressed Afghan women and girls.
If the international community is not more forceful, options for Afghanistani children are indeed slim. For example, while online learning offers a secure option for studying at home, millions of Afghan women and girls in remote areas lack internet access.
Governments concerned about the matter must exert pressure on the Taliban to lift their discriminatory ban on women’s and girls’ education and cease depriving boys of a safe and high-quality learning environment. The Taliban cannot flout Quranic directives on the right to education while adhering to an un-Islamic and regressive interpretation. Concrete steps, such as rehiring all female teachers, aligning the curriculum with international human rights law standards, and prohibiting corporal punishment, are indispensable.
The repercussions of the Taliban’s assault on the educational system are palpable now and will cast a long shadow over Afghanistan’s future. The urgent need for an international response to Afghanistan’s education crisis demands both swiftness and effectiveness.
[Anton Schauble edited this piece.]
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.
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