UN chief’s message to Taliban: Reverse ban on girls’ education

On the International Day of Education, there is a strong message from  United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to the Taliban. In a stern public notice,  the UN chief on January 24 called on the Taliban in Afghanistan to reverse the ban on girls’ access to secondary and higher education.

Calling education a fundamental right, Mr Guterres underlined that now is the time for all nations to ensure taking actual steps to develop welcoming and inclusive learning environments for all. “Now is also the time to end all discriminatory laws and practices that hinder access to education. I call on the de facto authorities in Afghanistan in particular to reverse the outrageous and self-defeating ban on access to secondary and higher education for girls,” the official spokesperson of the UN Secretary-General said in a release.

The UN, along with humanitarian agencies in Afghanistan, have strongly denounced the Taliban’s decision to shut the doors of universities to women and asked the de facto regime to “immediately revoke the decision. UN Human Rights High Commissioner Volker Türk described the ban as “another appalling and cruel blow to the rights of Afghan women and girls and a deeply regrettable setback for the entire country”. “Coming on top of girls being barred from attending secondary school, just think of all the female doctors, lawyers and teachers who have been, and who will be, lost to the development of the country”, said the senior UN official.

The Taliban government, after taking charge in 2021, assured the international community that the rights of women will be secured,  but this promise proved to be hollow.  The status of women under the regressive Taliban 2.0 regime has hardly shown any signs of improvement.

In the name of Islam?

The Taliban continue to push their own dogmatic agenda and have shown little or no regard for people’s sensitivities and grievances. They often justify what they do in the name of Islam and the traditions of Afghanistan.

In interviews of public intellectuals conducted by the New Straits Times, Sai’di stated that although they presume to speak in the name of Islam, the Taliban themselves are violating Islamic teachings that encourage knowledge and education for everyone including women. Not many know that the first ever religious scholar of Islam was a woman —  the wife of the Prophet.

Islam places the highest importance on the status of women, commanding highest respect in the society. To quote Prophet Mohammed, “Fear Allah regarding women. Verily you have married them with the trust of Allah, and made their bodies lawful with the word of Allah. You have got (rights) over them, and they have got (rights) over you in respect of their food and clothing according to your means.”

In 1990, when the Taliban came to power, they imposed a plethora of sanctions against women, denying their basic rights to education and employment, which goes against the trajectory of Islam. However, when the Taliban seized power again in 2021, Zabihullah Mujahid, the acting Deputy Culture and Information Minister of the de facto government, promised to “allow women to work and study but within the framework of Islam.” Looking back, it looks like the minister said this only to impress and deceive. According to Amnesty International “Taliban imposing more restrictions on women’s movements outside the home since their return to power, the percentage of females working in Afghanistan shrank to 15% in 2021.”

The brutal violation of the rights of women and children in Afghanistan by the Taliban grabbed the attention of the world, when the incumbent government in Kabul denied women access to Non-Governmental Organisations. UN aid Chief Martin Griffiths suspended “time critical programs” in Afghanistan since in a joint statement he stated that “women’s participation in aid delivery is not negotiable and must continue”

Ban on access to NGOs

The Taliban’s ban on women’s access to NGOs has trapped the country amidst the fears of famine. According to a UN survey, of the 151 local and international NGOs operating in Afghanistan only 15 percent said they can be fully operational without female staff because malnutrition and food security programs are implemented by women. That is because only they can access and distribute aid to other women and children, the most deprived segments of society.

With the retreat of humanitarian agencies, due to lack of female staff has led to the Afghan economy to shrink by 30% which the government is trying to recuperate by increasing tax, overburdening the population, deteriorating the standard of living in the Afghan land.

While the other Islamic States, namely Saudi Arabia, Iran,  Israel and Kyrgyzstan are upholding the interest of their women by adhering to progressive legislations, women in Afghanistan are in “dire” need for assistance to bring back the development that Afghanistan saw prior to the advent of the incumbent regime.

(Anushka Ghosh contributed inputs for this article)

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