Taliban Assault On Women’s Rights Continues After Reneging Plans Allowing Female Students To Attend School

In a surprise move, the Taliban have announced that high schools for girls would remain closed until revised plans for attendance are created, in accordance with Islamic law. This represents a further erosion of the human rights of women and girls and raises concerns about and wider prospects for women and girls in Afghanistan.

This comes after the Taliban’s Ministry for Education announced in March that schools would welcome all students, including girls, leading to hope that they could finally attend school after months of being forbidden. However, to the despair of thousands of girls, a notice from the Ministry later advised that school attendance would be ceased for the foreseeable future.

The Taliban has a history of restricting the rights of women and girls. When they last ruled Afghanistan between 1996 to 2001, they were widely seen as the most anti-women regime in the world, banning female education and employment and forcing women to stay at home unless accompanied by a male relative.

There were fears that the Taliban would reprise their repressive policies when they took Kabul in August last year and, despite claims to the contrary, it appears that they have quickly reverted back systematically removing women and girls from Afghan society. This is a gross violation of the human rights that has unfortunately become common place under the Taliban.

The Taliban’s actions were quickly condemned by the international community. Michelle Bachelet, the United Nations Human Rights Commissioner, has said that “the denial of education violates the human rights of women and girls,” and “beyond their equal right to education, it leaves them more exposed to violence, poverty and exploitation.”

The tragedy here is that women and girls in Afghanistan were able to enjoy their rights, protected by the Constitution of Afghanistan, over the past twenty years. These latest developments represent a backward step for women and girls, leaving then open to exploitation, abuse and discrimination in their communities.

With the international community having made women’s rights a key demand for aid and recognition, and the Taliban desperate for that international recognition, there is an opportunity to pressure the regime. This can be achieved through tying humanitarian aid and the release of frozen assets to human rights obligations for women and girls, including access to education.

The United Nations also needs to ensure that funds raised from international donors are channelled to humanitarian organizations on the ground in Afghanistan to enable advocacy efforts for women’s education and to ensure that women are free from poverty, exploitation and abuse.

Human rights monitors should also be allowed access to Afghan communities, both rural and urban, to ensure that women and girls are safe in both their homes and communities. In the absence of an education, this will at least ensure that women and girls are fed and protected during Afghanistan’s ongoing humanitarian crisis.

Women in Afghanistan have been bravely protesting since the return of the Taliban to try and safeguard their human rights. This shows that women and girls are not ready to easily relinquish their freedoms and suffer discrimination, abuse and exploitation. The international community needs to pressure the Taliban to allow girls to attend school so they can receive an education, reach their potential and live meaningful lives.