Education Ban and Afghan Women

Tahira Khan
In August 2021, the Taliban took control of Afghanistan after the withdrawal of American-led forces. During this period of time, they took several steps which go against basic human standards in the context of women’s education. First, they shut down schools for girls. Then, they banned university education as well.  Besides, they have also stopped women from working for national and international NGOs. These steps aroused international condemnation and the world sided with the Afghan women in this hour of need. However, concrete steps are yet to be taken to save Afghan women from these brutal policies.
According to the education Minister of Afghanistan, Neda Muhammad Nadeem, education is prohibited for Afghan women because of two reasons. Firstly, Women are not allowed to get modern education as such things lead to prostitution. And, prostitution is forbidden in Islam. Moreover, he further mentioned that there are certain subjects such as engineering and Agriculture which don’t need women or women should not study these subjects. Secondly, he remarked that the sole responsibility of women is to serve men and produce children.
It is unfortunate that in conservative cultures or societies with a Taliban mindset, women and prostitutes are closely related terms. A woman is considered to be a prostitute when she goes outside, gets an education, speaks for herself, earns a livelihood, involves in politics, take participation in the decision-making process, or even goes to a park. This prostitute blame is then extended to how women dress or walk even. It is pertinent to note that such narratives also exist on the other side of the border though there exists no such ban on women’s education and NGOs.
In particular, the Taliban has produced their kind of narrative regarding women before the world. The very first tenet of this narrative suggests that modern education is a tool due to which women are involved in prostitution. But, it doesn’t specify how and why? It does not specify what is the implication of this tool on men. Are men not liable to be prostitutes? As far as male-dominated societies, such as the Taliban one, are concerned, every decision is taken by men. These societies only allow men to head any business, social, and political activity no matter how immoral, illegal or irreligious that activity may be. In such circumstances, how women and prostitutes are closely related terms? Why men are excluded from this category if we follow the strict connotation of the terminology? I am not specifying what prostitution is because every society defines this thing in its own context. Taliban did the same thing.
On the other hand, the Taliban government has also reiterated that certain subjects such as engineering and agriculture are not for women to study. Why? Don’t women have the faculties to understand these subjects? Can’t professional women engineers be able to carry out other activities of their life smoothly? In a strict sense of the Taliban narrative, do they think women engineers can’t produce children and serve men properly? Fortunately, the world has countless examples of professional women who don’t only excel in their field of specialization but also live a happily married life. The same goes for Afghan women. They are no less than any other woman in terms of talent and professionalism.
The second part of the Taliban narrative mentions that the only duty of women is to serve men and produce children. This part of the narrative completely excludes men from taking care of their families, especially their wives. The ideology suggests it is not the man’s job to take care of or serve his children or wife but the opposite is the only best-suited social, moral and religious reality. It is the responsibility of the women only. How can Afghan society develop if men and women are separated to that much extent? How can a home prosper or family members be happy if their chores and responsibilities are entirely separated and not related to each other? Are the Taliban trying to delink members of the society or a family and expect the results to bring prosperity/development to the country? Which society, ever in history, has prospered or developed where that much gender segregation and discrimination is supposed to exist in a moral and religious context?
As far as religion is concerned, where Quran or Hadith has asked to take such drastic steps? Yes, it is a deeply rooted narrative of conservative societies that men are ‘Afzal’ or superior as compared to women. But, does this superiority mean to delink men from women within a family or society? Does this superiority mean women can’t work or go outside or get an education? Taliban government may have its own interpretation of this term and religion altogether. They may also ask to have freedom of interpretation as allowed in other parts of the world. But, what kind of freedom, logic, or religion is this? The Taliban logic of freedom of interpretation is neither understood by other Muslim countries, not the western world. And, why does this logic have a different interpretation for men and women of the Afghan diaspora?
The Taliban narrative should ponder upon the fact that their narrative or logic is deeply failed or incoherent. They have the wrong interpretation of religion and purity otherwise Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Pakistan, Qatar, Indonesia, Egypt, Malaysia, and Iran wouldn’t have condemned their steps against women. Even the Grand Imam of the Al-Azhar University has said that Taliban steps are un-Islamic. Similarly, western countries that have the mantra of freedom have also opposed Talib’s ban on education including the US, UK, France, Spain, Switzerland, Norway, Japan, Canada, Australia, and the Netherlands.
In a nutshell, the Talib narrative to have freedom of interpretation is neither understood by western countries nor the Muslim world. They have their own ideology and religion which is suggested to uphold the development and social balance. But, in retrospect, this very narrative will divide society. This step will lead to another war but this war will be against their own selves.
The writer holds an M.Phil Degree in South Asian Studies from the University of Punjab. She can be reached on Twitter @TahiraGhilzai.
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DisclaimerViews expressed in this article are those of the writer and Balochistan Voices does not necessarily agree with them.
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Tahira Khan is a student of BS (Hons) in Political Science from University of the Punjab, Lahore. She is a team member of Balochistan Voices. She belongs to Loralai district of Balochistan.