Afghan female education hangs in the balance

Afghanistan is still reeling from the U.S. invasion and its battle with the Taliban; however statistics show that one of the main
achievements of the U.S.-led war was the rebirth of young women entering the educational system.

Afghanistan’s new constitution stipulates that men and women “have equal rights and duties before the law,” but in practice females still remain a distant second to men in this patriarchal society.

Even though changes have taken place there is concern over whether this momentum of change in Afghan female education can be maintained once Western forces withdraw from the country in 2014.

According to the Taliban’s Islamic customs, once a young girl reaches puberty she should not be seen in public without a male relative to escort her. Such restrictions of freedom of movement must inevitably have an effect on both her education and future potential as an individual in Afghani society.

Education forbidden


Under the Taliban, young girls were forbidden to enter educational institutions after the age of eight; hence, most women were forced into underground schools where they risked punishment or even execution for breaking Taliban customs.

Objection to such treatment by Western society and international human rights organizations has carried very little weight with the Taliban authorities in the past or the present day. The Taliban does not feel bound by international law or U.N. codes, which the majority of developed countries abide by. They tend to view such legislation as an instrument of Western imperialism.

The important question here is whether the equality of women and their right to an education will be affected once Western forces withdraw from the country next year. The situation in Afghanistan still remains unclear, even though NATO forces have had a hand in the country for years.

The combined Western forces have failed to halt Taliban attacks inside the country and their crackdown on women and girls education in the tribal belt, which borders Pakistan. This area continues to be a stronghold for the militants and a launch pad for them to continue committing atrocities in Afghanistan.

The self-proclaimed spokesman for the Taliban, Ehsanullah Ehsan, has publically proclaimed over and over that the Taliban considers the education of females unusual, unnecessary and most of all ‘is the evil of all ills.’

Ehsan made these announcements whenever the Taliban closed or burnt down girls schools in tribal areas.

After the fall of the Taliban regime, some restrictions on women were lifted, but those who benefited the most were residing in urban areas. Rural Afghanistan as mentioned earlier remains largely deprived of such freedom.

Let’s not forget that most Afghans still live in the rural areas, where poverty, conflict and conservative attitudes flourish thus
ensuring that the great majority of women will be kept out of the public eye and in the home.

Pashtun society


The Taliban mainly reside in the heartlands of the Pashtuns, an ethnic group from which the Taliban emerged. Pashtuns have always had a more ‘traditional’ view of women and their role in Pashtun society.

The Pashtuns have been living under Taliban control for the last three decades and because of their extremist views Pashtun women and girls have been prevented from working outside the home or from receiving any formal education.

Radical groups holding positions of power have threatened, abused, and killed female leaders throughout the years in order to discourage any inclination or motivation that other females might have to ask for rights, equality and freedom.

Probably the most shocking reports to come out of these areas tell of fathers shooting and killing their daughters for simply being spotted in public. How then can a young female even embark on a walk to school, let alone sit in a classroom and fulfil her potential or have a future in the society.

 Literacy and school enrolment rates in the Federal Administered Tribal Area (FATA) are the lowest in the country.

 “The overall literacy rate in FATA is 19.9 percent, and literacy rate is 34.2 percent for boys and 5.75 percent for girls,” said Deeba Shabnam, education program officer for UNICEF in Peshawar, Pakistan.

Western forces used violence and the abuse of women’s rights as part of their justification for the invasion of Afghanistan.

Western forces used violence and the abuse of women’s rights as part of their justification for the invasion of Afghanistan.

Schools are being built inside certain Afghan cities like Kabul and Helmand where U.S. allies and forces have some kind of a grip on local security. While on the outskirts there is a far less development and in the Tribal belt educational institutions for women are virtually extinct. The ones that do arise are immediately closed by the Taliban.

There have been some great Western female pioneers who are attempting to stimulate girl’s education as a basic human right.

Angelina Jolie is one example, who is not seen as a Hollywood star in Afghanistan but respected for engineering the building of schools and the peoples struggle to emerge from decades of war.

However, the main impetus has to come from the Afghan government that needs to step in and protect its women by coming down hard on those who violate their rights. Today, women who attend schools or go to work are putting their lives at risk. Change has to come from within. Foreigners have only been able to pave the way for change; walking the talk must come from within the society itself.
Sophie Ghaziri is a Shift Editor at Al Arabiya English. She has previously worked as a producer, presenter and a writer at the BBC, Al Jazeera and she was Head of English at Future News in Lebanon for 2 years. She can be followed on Twitter on: @sophieghaziri

Last Update: Saturday, 20 April 2013 KSA 09:49 - GMT 06:49
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