Women in Afghanistan are being denied the right to education. When the Taliban resumed power in August 2021, they immediately closed girls’ schools. In the past with the Taliban in power, women did not have access to education, employment, or other basic human rights.
The ruling history of the Taliban in the past, makes it hard to believe that girls will have the opportunity to access education under their rule.
In this article we explore the negative effects of institutionalised gender discrimination. In particular, we examine how the exclusion of women from education impacts them as individuals and the communities they live in. We also touch on the long-term damage that gender inequality inflicts on a society.
Educating Women under Islamic Law
The Taliban enforces a strict religious ideology. The philosophy is a mixture of traditionalism and puritanism with a strict conservative social code which includes:
- Exclusion of women from public life
- Systematic destruction of non-Islamic artistic relics
- Implementation of harsh criminal punishments
Denying women Access to Education reduces humanitarian support
In the past, humanitarian support funds enabled:
- Health care
- Governance reforms
Once the Taliban returned to power in August 2021, women were stopped from receiving high school education. Although the Ministry of Education stated that girls above grade 6 will be able to return to school on Wednesday March 23 2022, the decision was reversed after only a few hours of schools being opened.
Until officials are able to create a plan that follows Islamic laws women will not return to schools in Afghanistan.
Afghanistan is receiving external pressures from other countries to allow women back at school. Countries are further cutting funding. Consequently by reducing funding, women’s basic services are being withheld.
Many countries suspended or reduced funding to Afghanistan once the Taliban took over, but there is still humanitarian aid that continues via the UN Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Assistance (UNOCHA). However, if the Taliban does not protect the civil and political rights of Afghans, foreign governments will stop providing economic aid.
Women suffer when denied education and employment
“We are concerned about the continuous and systematic efforts to exclude women from the social, economic, and political spheres across the country”United Nations
Experts have shed light on the fact that there is now an increased risk of exploitation of women and girls. This includes:
- Forced marriages,
- Forced labour
Furthermore, women are unable to work unless there is no mixing of genders. This effectively shuts them out of the workforce.
Lastly, the Ministry of Women’s Affairs, the Independent Human Rights Commission and women’s shelters are institutions created to support vulnerable women. Under Taliban ruling these institutions have shut down until further notice.
The Negative Effects of Discrimination in Education
Suspending women’s education has effects on the individual, the community, as well as the country. Girls’ education strengthens economies and reduces inequalities.
“Only around 30 per cent of all girls worldwide have made it to secondary education and more than 66 per cent of all university students are male”
Women’s education means:
- Lifetime earnings of girls dramatically increase
- National growth rates rise
- Decline in child marriage rates
- Decline in child mortality rates
- Decline in maternal mortality rates fall
- Child stunting drops
At an individual/familial level the impacts of not educating women include: child marriage, increased mortality rates, lack of power, and domestic abuse.
Each additional year of secondary education is associated with reducing child marriage. Educated women are less likely to suffer from maternal deaths. Meanwhile, women who can read have children that are more likely to live past the age of 5.
Secondary education increases knowledge and therefore power. It allows the ability for women to make their own decisions. This is in regards to health, nutrition, wellbeing, and decision-making.
Additionally, girls’ education reduces vulnerability to violence. A lack of education can affect women’s confidence and mental health, leading to a lower ability to protect themselves.
At a larger scale educated women are able to contribute towards the economy via employment. Women with secondary education make two times as much as women with no education. Moreover, women with tertiary education make nearly three times as much than those with no education.
Women make up approximately 50% of the population. The less education women receive, the less they can contribute to the growth and development of a country.
The Economic Cost of Not Educating Women
Women’s education also boosts economic empowerment. Education results in more job opportunities.
Research states that a mother’s education level is the most important factor to her child’s life outcomes. Educated women have the ability to lift families, communities and countries out of poverty. In short, the more women are employed the less people are driven into poverty.
Some of the many ways in which women and girls’ education can end poverty include:
- Reducing human and sex trafficking
- Preventing malnutrition and illness
- Promoting safe sex and family planning
- Encouraging women to marry later
- Increase income potential
- Poverty reduction and increase in GDP
Lowering birth rates has an extensive effect on the economy. Educated women are more likely to have fewer children. This in turn, improves the economy.
Working women boost productivity, increase economic diversification, and income equality. By increasing female employment rates the OECD can benefit with 6 trillion dollars. Above all, gender gaps cost the economy 15% of GDP.
Women in Afghanistan have previously held steady professional incomes. But with the right to work being taken away, women are being pushed further into poverty. Many government positions held by women have also been taken away. This has effected the government’s efficacy.
Isn’t Educating Women A Basic Right?
The right to education is imperative. According to UNESCO education is a human right for multiple reasons. Education contributes to the development of a fully-rounded human. It is an essential tool in lowering poverty rates and transitioning towards a developed society. Lastly, education reduce gender gaps.
In addition to education being a fundamental human right, girls’ education is a great investment and a strategic development priority. Research shows that girls education has a dramatic effect on development outcomes.
Believe it or not, it has been observed that women’s education can also affect climate mitigation. Research suggests girls’ education can strengthen climate strategies in 3 ways. Firstly by empowering girls and advancing reproductive health rights; Secondly by fostering girls’ climate leadership, Thirdly, by pro-environmental decision-making, and developing girls’ skills for environmental jobs.
The Problem Facing Afghanistan
The last time the Taliban was in power was from 1996 to 2001. In 2001 there were nearly no women enrolled in schools. After two decades of international funding, 54,861 women attended schools.
Although these are steps in the right direction towards mending gender gaps in education – still, only 37% of teenage girls can read and write. The Taliban have resumed power and have suspended schooling for girls above grade 6. It can only be assumed that the number of girls with high school education will once again decrease.
The negative effects of girls who do not attain an education have been stressed from an individual and economic standpoint. Girls not attending schools also affects the society.
Impacts of Gender Discrimination
Gender discrimination has impacts on both mental and physical health. These effects have the potential to produce a less productive society.
Psychological Impacts of Gender Inequality
In terms of mental illness, women who are exposed to gender gaps are at risk of experiencing higher rates of:
- Post-traumatic stress disorder
- Eating disorders
Physical Impacts of Gender Inequality
The effects of gender discrimination on physical health are both direct and indirect. These effects include:
- Less healthy living conditions
- Injury and death
Research suggests that women who experience discrimination at work are more likely to report ill physical health. Stress can contribute to many chronic conditions including:
- Chronic pain
- High blood pressure
Gender discrimination results in a person having worse living conditions. It is possible that a vulnerable population has less access to necessities needed to survive.
Gender Inequality increases violence
In the same vein, discrimination can fester in the form of violence. The stress from violence as well as the violence itself impacts health. Female genital mutilation is one example of violence with serious health complications. Communities that practice female genital mutilation believe that it can make a girl more pure and therefore suitable for marriage.
Unfortunately for Afghan girls all these negative effects are a hard-hitting reality.
Sexism and discrimination also have indirect effects on men. Men who believe they have power over women are more likely to have psychological problems compared to men who portray less masculine expressions. Men in sexist environments/communities also are subject to masculine stereotypes. Consequently men do not seek the necessary help. Unfortunately this can spiral into violence and/or adverse health effects.
Educated Women and Healthcare
Gender discrimination affects everyone’s well-being. If a person experiences discrimination and this damages their health, it has a knock-on effect on their family, friends, and the wider community.
This study from 2018 shows that harassment and discrimination directly affect health outcomes.
Gender discrimination affects healthcare thereby reducing the speed, accuracy and quality of treatment. The effects include:
- Dismissal of symptoms
- Incorrect or delayed diagnoses
- Withholding care
- Obstetric violence
According to this study, women who are exposed to discrimination are less likely to be taken (compared to men) seriously when listing symptoms in a healthcare setting. This leaves women without support and treatment. A doctor’s capability to dismiss a woman’s symptoms may result in incorrect or delayed diagnoses and subsequently withholding care.
Educating Women at Universities
In December 2022, a worrisome event took place in Afghanistan – Afghanistan’s Taliban-led government suspended access to universities for Afghan women. During 2022, many international organisations were hoping that the government would keep to their assurance that this would not take place. The Taliban’s message around girls’ and women’s education in Afghanistan has been sporadic, contradictory, and far from transparent. The regime has allowed the creation of local policies based on personal interpretation of Sharia. This makes educating women challenging and disorganised.
“The Taliban’s interpretations notwithstanding, in Islam, women, like men, are obligated to pursue knowledge. In the Quran, Allah orders both sexes to increase their knowledge and condemns those who are not learned.” (Belquis Ahmadi; Asma Ebadi, 2022).
There has been international condemnation of the decision to suspend access to universities for Afghan women. Although, international organisations cannot do much other than condemn. This is why it is important for us to discuss at least and raise awareness of the situation in Afghanistan. Let Afghan women have a voice, and listen to it. Imagine the desperation of not being able to attend school and learn, and remember that for some school is their only safe place.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights states in Article 26 that “Everyone has the right to education.” This is merely a guideline for countries to follow and abide, yet it speaks of basic human rights. States have their own laws, meaning that they can use the parts they see fit from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and leave out the parts that might collide with their own cultural/religious values. Afghanistan has a history of fundamental ideologies toward girls and women receiving education. For example, in the Parwan province, in May 2009, there were reports that toxic gas had been dispersed in a girls’ school playground (Cooray, Potrafke, 2011). There are many challenges facing the protection of human rights in Afghanistan when it comes to the education of women and girls. THRIVE looks to bodies like the United Nations as a leader when it comes to educating women in Afghanistan.
The UN’s Goals for Equality in Education
There are many reasons and benefits to educating women globally. The United Nation Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) demonstrates the necessity for girls education globally. Specifically, in SDG 4: Quality Education and SDG 5: Gender Equality. Both of these goals aim to progress society where all women have the opportunity to quality education.
The Taliban closing girls schools allows for unfortunate individual, societal, and economic implications. Education is a human right which everyone should have access to.
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