by Sarah Wei, News Editor
photo courtesy of South China Morning Post
The Taliban’s Aug. 15 takeover has jeopardized Afghani women’s education
After the Taliban’s successful conquest of Afghanistan, many wondered what lasting effects this political shift would have on women’s education, which had been improving since the Taliban lost power in 2001.
According to a 2021 report from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), education enrollment of girls in Afghanistan from 2001 to 2021 increased from 0 to 2.5 million, and the female literacy rate doubled from 17% to 30%.
Concerns surrounding the Taliban’s strict interpretation of Sharia law have sparked a global outcry of support for women.
The Taliban have indicated that their new rules will be more lenient than those of their previous reign. In a Sept. 12 ceremony, the newly-appointed Minister of Higher Education Abdul Baqi Haqqani said that women would be allowed to receive a form of education, as well as continue onto collegiate and graduate programs under strict guidelines: all classes, including their respective teachers, must be segregated by gender, and all girls must wear hijabs.
However, the administration has been unclear on the specifics of what education girls will receive. According to the New York Times, the Taliban have been vague in their intentions and displayed troubling signs, indicating that women’s right to education could be oppressed; on Sept. 17, the Taliban instructed only boys in the grades between seven and 12 to return to schools, ignoring girls in the same age group. Since then, only middle- and high school-aged girls in the north of the country have been allowed back into classrooms.
In addition, the new 33-seat government is entirely male, and the previous Ministry of Women’s Affairs has been converted into centers for Sharia law enforcement.
The same UNESCO report stated that the new gender segregation rules further complicate the future of women’s education, as they exacerbate an already severe teacher shortage. The report cited the lack of teachers, difficulties in paying their salaries and a decrease in international aid as possible factors that could lead to the oppression of education for girls.
Such headlines force people worldwide to reckon with the reality of education for women
The crisis in Afghanistan is just an example of the worldwide struggle for female education. Across the globe, there are 129 million girls out of school.
UNICEF club co-president senior Kara Wong said that restrictive gender roles prevent many girls from going to school.
“We’ve all heard the sexist phrase ‘women belong in the kitchen,’ and this stereotype is especially common in many developing countries,” she said. “These communities dictate girls to be the household caretakers, pulling girls out of school to instead dedicate time to domestic tasks such as water retrieval and cooking.”
Wong said that general safety concerns are another substantial barrier to education.
“In many developing countries, [schools] don’t offer functional, private restrooms to girls,” she said. “Open defecation, or public bathroom use, leaves girls susceptible to sexual assault and gender-based violence.”
This deficiency of education is especially pressing due to the adversity that many women around the world face, Molly Estrada, science teacher and co-director of the Curriculum Committee for the South Human Rights Council, said.
“If you’re not educated, you don’t know how life could be or should be. Typically if you’re not educated, you’re isolated [and stuck where you are]. You probably have been told lies your whole life.” she said. “If you’re educated, you can better understand why something is unfair, why something doesn’t make sense, and then you can articulate that and fight your way out.”
Junior and Feminist Empowerment Movement (FEM) club co-president Soleil McAneny said that education builds confidence and shapes the foundation for one’s future.
Wong said that education not only benefits current students, but also their posterity.
“Education allows women to contribute to forward progress for future generations,” she said. “Education offers women economic and social support to not only improve their own living standards, but also pave the way for future women to, ideally, abolish all inequitable institutions entirely.”
Although girls in Newton do not face the same kind of adversity in pursuing an education, patterns of inequality and discrimination are still prevalent.
Junior Shay Weissman, FEM club co-president, said that they have experienced instances of sexism in the classroom.
“It happened three times in one day, where I raised my hand, and then a boy sitting next to me just started talking after the teacher called on me, and no one acknowledged it or anything,” they said.
English teacher Jenny Robertson wrote in an Oct. 7 email that South must do better to combat these patterns.
“[We must] acknowledge, meaningfully address and remedy the sexism that still exists in male-dominated fields and how that plays out in the classroom, like coding, shop classes [and] STEM,” she said.
Science teacher and Women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) advisor Ashley Vollaro said that including representation of women in the classroom is a key first step to solving the issue.
“Something that we are talking about as teachers is having more representation in the curriculum. That’s a common theme, not with just women, but all races [and] all faces,” she said. “It’s an easy starting point. Then we can start to have deeper conversations like, ‘Why, in your textbook, do you only see white men during this time period? Why is this the way it is, and what are we doing now?’”
To further these efforts, Estrada said that the Curriculum Committee is developing a more diverse curriculum.
“We’ve been trying to make sure that we’re not just showing the one woman or the one Black person or one Chinese person who made it because we know that’s not the case,” she said. “How do we make it more obvious that we’re celebrating all the wonderful women and people of color in the science fields so that it’s not just that one person that we’re highlighting that one time in the year?”
Representation in education is necessary because, as Robertson said, education is a fundamental right for women to not only learn and grow, but to also enact change in their lives.
“We live in a time when we actually have to remind people why it’s important for women to receive an education. [It’s] because we are human. Because we deserve to live and thrive and dream and access those dreams. Because controlling what girls and women can do, where they can go, who they can talk to, what they can do with their bodies, is dehumanizing in every possible way. Because education is the key to independence and freedom of thought. Education allows access to power — power to influence others, power to make a difference and power to dismantle the very systems that are designed to keep women down.”