The Platform

Afghan girls' coats hang outside a school in Kabul in 2006.

The Taliban’s ban on women and girls seeking education is purely punitive. Unfortunately, given the group’s track record, it isn’t exactly unexpected.

During their rule from 1996 to 2001, the Taliban denied women and girls the right to education. Unfortunately, after regaining power in 2021, the Taliban once again prohibited education for girls who had reached puberty. Although this restriction was initially intended to be temporary, it remains in place, casting doubt on the Taliban’s commitment to reopening schools and colleges. Consequently, girls no longer have safe spaces to learn, gather, and play. If this education ban persists, the prospects for girls and all children will continue to decline, and recovery will take decades.

Education is not only a fundamental right in itself, but also a crucial enabler for realizing other human rights such as the right to work, a decent standard of living, good health, participation in society, equality before the law, and fundamental freedoms. By denying education to half of the population, women and girls are effectively deprived of most other fundamental rights.

Moreover, Afghanistan’s economy is severely impacted by the absence of consistent girls’ education and women’s ability to work. The country’s recovery prospects remain bleak without active participation from Afghan women in the economy and public life. The UNDP’s Kanni Wignaraja rightly emphasizes that the continuity of girls’ education and women’s empowerment is essential for any meaningful progress to occur.

The edicts imposed by the Taliban, which restrict the rights of women and girls, including a directive prohibiting Afghan women from working for the United Nations, directly impacts economic productivity and may impact aid inflows. Additionally, negative geopolitical factors and economic challenges in neighboring countries further compound the difficulties faced by Afghanistan.

When combined with the country’s dire economic and human rights situation, the consequences are significant. Since the education ban for girls was imposed, there has been a rise in child marriage, child labor, and distressing reports of children being medicated to alleviate hunger, leading to malnutrition and even deaths.

Afghanistan’s economic prospects are grim, especially if recent restrictions on women’s work in non-governmental organizations result in a significant decline in international aid. This would exacerbate pressures on the currency exchange rate, inflation, and the availability of imported food products. Consequently, imports may decrease, reducing customs revenue, which is a vital income source for the government. Obtaining raw resources for manufacturing will become more challenging, liquidity in banks will decrease, and foreign transactions may become increasingly problematic. The import of energy could also be hindered. In summary, earnings will inevitably decline, unemployment will rise, and poverty will worsen.

According to the UNDP, real GDP growth is projected to be 1.3 percent in 2023 and 0.4 percent in 2024. However, GDP per capita is expected to decline from $359 in 2022 to $345 in 2024, further deteriorating the plight of Afghans. These forecasts rely on the assumption of continued international support for Afghanistan. However, this forecast is vulnerable to significant downside risks, particularly due to the Taliban’s policies regarding women, which may lead to a reduction in overseas funding.

The Taliban has no valid justification for denying the right to education on any grounds, be it religion or tradition. As a signatory to numerous United Nations human rights treaties, including the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, and the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, the Taliban is obligated to respect, protect, and fulfill the right to education without gender-based discrimination.

Afghan women continue to express feelings of invisibility, alienation, suffocation, and living in prison-like conditions. Many struggle to meet their basic needs without access to employment or assistance, including medical treatment and psychological support, especially for victims of violence, particularly sexual violence. This serves as a stark warning of how swiftly and aggressively women’s and girls’ rights can be eroded.

Removing these constraints would facilitate a more equitable and comprehensive provision of aid to Afghan citizens. Simultaneously, supportive remittance and investment policies are still necessary, and the Afghan diaspora can play a crucial role in this regard. Furthermore, the Global Compact for Migration offers the possibility of creating conditions for Afghan migrants and the diaspora to serve as a lifeline for their compatriots and contribute to the prosperity of their country.

We should applaud the courageous women, children, and men who have persistently opposed the ban on women and girls’ access to education and join their call for an immediate end to this prohibition. Additionally, we strongly condemn the denial of education to women and girls and urge the Taliban to promptly reopen all secondary schools and higher education institutions for girls and young women. It is vital to protect, support, and monitor the safety of girls in and around schools. Furthermore, all restrictions on female education employees should be lifted so that they can continue to play a vital role in safeguarding education for all Afghans regardless of gender.

Mahmodul Hasan Shesheir is a public health researcher. Mahmodul holds a Bachelor's degree in Economics from East West University, Bangladesh. He is currently a research assistant at the BRAC James P Grant School of Public Health, BRAC University. His interests include public health, education, poverty, micro economics, and development.

Mehadi Hasan Shawon is a graduate student at North Dakota State University. He holds a Bachelor's degree in Agricultural Economics from Bangladesh Agricultural University. Mehadi is currently doing research on natural disasters. His areas of interest are public policy, immigration, natural disasters, and behavioral economics.