The Taliban’s advance to power has meant many things. Repercussions have been felt around the world as foreign powers rush to evacuate at risk citizens and international diplomacy has been tested as leaders grapple with questions of what the 20-year occupation in Afghanistan was for. And, crucially, was it worth it?
A common answer to that question has repeatedly been “at least we have educated girls”.
In some cases, this has been true. There have been increased opportunities in education and employment. Women have held government office and movements towards increased rights and freedoms have been made. However, even with US and British occupation in Afghanistan, keeping girls in education was a persistent struggle. A UNICEF report published in 2018 found that 60% of children not in school were girls.
What is undeniable is that any hard-won progress clawed back over the past two decades now holds a precarious position completely dependent on the will of the Taliban. As the Taliban establish themselves as the governing body of Afghanistan, the world stands witness to the nation they will build. Will women be allowed to be educated? Will they be allowed to attend university? Will women be allowed to work?
Questions which shouldn’t even be questions abound, and suddenly education is no longer the stepping stone for young people to gain opportunity and success, but a political pawn in the manoeuvres of a government trying to prove themselves on the international stage.
As we return to university for a new year, so too do young people across Afghanistan. However, with the Taliban in power the experience will now be unimaginably different. The Taliban have promised that women will have rights and have said that women can attend university. Despite this, hauntingly backwards images have been released from a Kabul university in which a curtain separates the female students from the male. Promises made by spokesmen of the Taliban mean little when evidence from the ground speaks to a very different future of segregation and subordination. This is not to mention the sudden and dramatic loss of all rights for LGBTQ+ people. Under Sharia Law homosexuality is explicitly banned. Students who just weeks ago were attending university are now fearful of their lives.
Importantly the people of Afghanistan refuse to submit quietly or easily relinquish the rights they have fought so hard for. Protests gave been staged in Kabul and across Afghanistan to demand rights and criticise the all-male interim Taliban government. They protest despite the high risk it poses to their safety and their lives. Reports have already emerged of women being beaten to disperse the crowds and deaths from bullet wounds. In response the Taliban have now banned all protests which do not have prior permission. We are witnessing a barbaric attack to basic rights, when all the while the Taliban continue to seek legitimacy from the international community.
Access to education must be available to all; to be able to attend school and then university cannot depend on politics or prejudice. It is now a waiting game over the coming months to see how the Taliban will treat women and minority groups and what the rights they have promised will mean when the world is no longer scrutinising their every move. The international community still has a crucial role to play even now the last troops have left the ground as the Taliban must be held accountable to their promises. After twenty years, we must continue to ensure not only girls but women, LGBTQ+ people, those who oppose the Taliban and those that feel threatened by the Taliban can return to and stay in education.
Featured Image: BBC