As the world observes International Education Day, Afghanistan stands as the only country globally where girls are systematically denied access to education.
Since the Taliban’s return to power in August 2021, they have enforced severe restrictions on women and girls, including prohibiting education for girls beyond the sixth grade. Initially, schools were shuttered, followed by universities and educational centers, effectively removing millions of girls from the Afghan educational system.
Many students lament their shattered dreams and diminished prospects. While some continue their studies in secret underground schools, they acknowledge that these are no substitute for formal education.
This unique plight is faced by girls like Mehrmah, who had aspired to pursue her education up to the doctorate level. “When I’m at home, I suffer a lot,” she shared, expressing her ambition to become a doctor.
Despite the challenges, Mehrmah and others like her attend underground schools – hidden from the Taliban’s view – to keep their educational aspirations alive. However, these covert schools are at constant risk of being shut down by the Taliban.
Human Rights Watch criticized Afghanistan’s educational restrictions on girls as a disgraceful disparity between the country and the rest of the world.
Key aspects of the Taliban’s policy on women and girls’ education include:
- The closure of schools for girls above the sixth grade in September 2021.
- The shutdown of universities for girls in December 2022.
- The closing of educational centers for girls also in December 2022.
- Additional school closures for girls throughout 2023.
According to UNESCO, these closures in September 2021 led to 1.1 million girls being deprived of schooling and 2.5 million girls and young women being excluded from education. By December 2022, over 100,000 girls were barred from higher education – a figure likely to have increased since.
Despite numerous global appeals for the resumption of girls’ education in Afghanistan, the Taliban remain steadfast in their policy, keeping women and girls confined to their homes.
On International Education Day, as girls worldwide enjoy educational access, those in Taliban-ruled Afghanistan continue to voice their demand for an end to this deprivation, though their pleas often go unheard.