Fahad Ali looks at an extremely obscurantist decision
The no higher education for Afghan women taliban regime is gradually turning the screws of its policy based upon narrow-minded socio-political orientation that is proving harmful to a very large percentage of the population of Afghanistan. Adhering to their hard line obscurantism the Kabul regime have gone ahead and have assaulted freedom of women by declaring that female students will not be able to attend classes at public and private universities. This step is continuation of Taliban’s crackdown on female freedom although the global expectation was that the Taliban in their position of rulers of Afghanistan would review their extreme stances and apply much required rationalism in managing statecraft. Unfortunately, the Taliban have refused to mend their ways and this recent decision of depriving women of higher education has shocked female university students when they were turned away from their institutes. Earlier the Taliban had disallowed secondary education for girls and the university ban comes in force despite the fact that women students were segregated from their male counterparts and adhered to the strict dress code the Taliban have enforced.
It is pointed by many quarters that the Afghan Taliban do not adequately justify the religious interpretation about the matter of female education as it is permissible in other Muslim states that follow Islamic law such as Saudi Arabia and Iran. In this backdrop what is deduced is that the Afghan Taliban are actually adhering to mediaeval tribal and cultural codes and they are greatly inspired by such perception and use Islamic injunctions to justify their convoluted policies. This type of policy is considered according to vintage Taliban interpretation of most matters pertaining to governance and they do not care about the consequences. This is precisely the reason that with their advent polarisation has increased in Afghanistan and there are reports of many segments of Afghani population becoming restive making the regime resort to suppressing mode that in turn is further isolating the regime. However, by all accounts the Taliban regime has no intention to reconsider their position and is completely unwilling to change its extremist stand come what may.
It is reported that the Western world has publicly declared its opposition to this decision and has made its view point known to the wider world. The Western world is also reported to consider slapping sanctions against the Taliban regime but many observers are of the view that such step would be counterproductive, making the Taliban harden its already inflexible positions and adding to the Afghan people’s miseries. In this respect the general consensus is that the most appropriate policy would be to remain engaged with the Taliban and pressure should be applied to secure the rights of Afghan women. It is widely known that the Taliban regime does have differences within themselves regarding this issue though the rational Taliban element has not been able to decisively influence the hard line ultraconservative Kandahar-based leadership. It is therefore essential that such elements within the ruling group are strengthened with a view to impress upon the Taliban high command the need for educating women of the country and not to deprive them of this very important requirement.
The decision of banning women from acquiring higher education elicited global condemnation and the Group of Seven industrialised democracies have rated the prohibition tantamount to a crime against humanity. That ban was announced less than three months after thousands of women were allowed to sit university entrance exams though there were restrictions on the subjects they could apply for with engineering, economics, veterinary science and agriculture blocked and journalism severely restricted. Despite such restraints women were still getting education though in a very limited way as noted by UNESCO that from 2001 and 2018 – the period between Taliban rule – the rate of female attendance in higher education had increased twenty times.
In response to the order, around 400 male students boycotted an exam in the southern city of Kandahar in what is known to be a rare protest staged by men. The students’ walkout was dispersed by Taliban forces that fired into the air during the process. The Taliban had already barred teenage girls from secondary school and women have been pushed out of many government jobs, prevented from travelling without a male relative and ordered to cover up outside of the home, ideally with a burqa. They are also not allowed to enter parks or gardens. The Taliban have also resumed public floggings of men and women in recent weeks, widening their implementation of an extreme interpretation of Islamic law.
Just after taking over the Taliban, universities were forced to implement new rules including gender-segregated classrooms and entrances and women were only permitted to be taught by female professors or old men. Most Afghan teenage girls have already been banned from secondary school education severely limiting university intake. The new regressive order has been equally condemned by the United Nations with the UN’s Special Rapporteur to Afghanistan stating that it was a new low further violating the right to equal education and deepens the erasure of women from Afghan society. Other countries have also opposed this move pointing out that the Taliban cannot expect to be a legitimate member of the international community until they respect the rights of all in Afghanistan. Western countries have demanded all year that the Taliban improve female education if they wish to be formally recognised as Afghanistan’s government.
This move is altogether shocking as the Taliban had promised a softer rule after seizing power last year following the US’ withdrawal from the country. However, the hard line Islamists have continued to roll back women’s rights and freedoms in the country. The Taliban leader Hibatullah Akhundzada and his inner circle have been against modern education – particularly for girls and women. There has been opposition to this stance from more moderate officials and analysts say this issue has been a point of factional division all year. Yet the education ministry said its scholars had evaluated the university curriculum and environment and attendance for girls would be suspended until a suitable environment was provided. It added that it would soon provide such a setting and citizens should not be worried. However in March, the Taliban had promised to re-open some high schools for girls but then cancelled the move on the day they were due to return. The crackdown also follows a wave of new restrictions on women in recent months. In November, women were banned from parks, gyms and public baths.
In addition the Taliban regime ordered all national and international non-governmental organisations to stop their women employees from working after serious complaints were made about their dress code. The official directives have threatened to suspend the operating licences of NGOs that failed to implement the directive that would render them unable to work. The latest restriction comes less than a week after the Taliban authorities banned women from attending universities, prompting global outrage and protests. Two international NGOs confirmed that they had received the notification and stated that they are suspending all their activities. Dozens of national and international NGOs continue to work in several sectors across remote areas of Afghanistan and many of their employees are women. TW