by Leticia Cox
Taliban means suppression of women. Taliban means degrading a woman’s qualities, place and role in society. Taliban means no education or work for women other than housework and childbearing. Taliban means deprivation of women’s fundamental human rights, living in fear and without dignity.
Most Afghans, including some Taliban, do not support excluding women and girls from the education system and are seriously concerned about the consequences for the whole nation.
After the Taliban’s announcement to ban female students from university, male university students walked out of their exam in protest against the Taliban’s decision, and several male professors resigned.
Muslim countries, such as Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Qatar, have voiced their sorrow at the university ban and urged the Taliban authorities to withdraw their decision.
“There is no religious or cultural justification for it,” said 26-year-old Husna Jalal, a Political Sciences graduate from Kabul.
Jalal fled Afghanistan in August last year after the Taliban took over the city of Kabul. Jalal has been working for four years in Kabul after graduating from university, but like many working Afghan women predicted the strict Sharia would be implemented soon after the Taliban took over the country.
“It’s heartbreaking to see my sisters being violated of their fundamental human rights. I saw them marching in the streets crying out for freedom and equality, and how Taliban security forces used violence to break up the group and stop them from practising their freedom of speech”, said Jalal. “People worldwide need to raise their voices for my sisters; the Taliban have taken all our hopes.”
The Taliban, known as the Talib, who sought to end warlordism in Afghanistan through stricter adherence to Sharia since 1996, took control of Afghanistan as the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan by force in 2021.
For decades, the role of Sharia has become an increasingly contested topic worldwide. The International European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg (ECHR) ruled in several cases that Sharia is “conflicting with the fundamental principles of democracy”. Some traditional practices comprise severe human rights violations, especially on women and their freedom of education.
When the Taliban came, they abolished the Ministry of Women. Women were gradually withdrawn from television screens. Tens of thousands of women were unemployed in different branches. They were forbidden to go anywhere exceeding 72 km without a mahram. Women are being pulled out of social life. The health services offered to them are limited, their employment opportunities are limited, and their right to education has been taken away.
Taliban’s recent announcement to immediately suspend until further notice women from universities across the country is a blatant violation of their human equal rights consecrated in multiple international treaties worldwide.
“The first commandment of Islam is “read”. Islam urges both men and women to seek knowledge. While the Qur’an addresses human beings, it advises men and women to gain knowledge, find the truth, reveal and develop their own potential, and become perfect human beings,” said PhD holder from Islamic Theology, Dr Ali Unsal in a recent interview for Broken Chalk.
Dr Ali Unsal is an experienced writer, researcher, teacher, and preacher with a strong background in Islamic Theology and Islamic Jurisprudence. Dr Unsal earned his PhD in Islamic Theology and Master and Bachelor of Divinity from top divinity schools in Turkey. He has lived in the US for several years, where he enhanced his academic and professional studies and experience by engaging with both Muslim and non-Muslim Americans via seminars, workshops, counselling, local community services and academic writing. He headed the Institute of Islamic and Turkish Studies (IITS) in Fairfax, VA.
Dr Unsal organizes panels, seminars and discussions with academicians from different countries, and he is fluent in English, Turkish, Arabic, Bahasa Indonesia and Tatar.
According to Dr unsal, Hz. Muhammad encouraged the education and upbringing of girls, who were especially despised and undervalued throughout history. “For example, in one of his Hadiths, “Whoever raises and disciplines two girls until they reach adulthood, we will be together with that person on the Day of Judgment,” explains Dr Unsal.
“When women came to him and said that he constantly taught men in the mosque and conveyed the message of Allah, but that women were deprived of this, he gave them a special time and gave them a kind of education.
Hz. Aisha, the wife of Muhammad, became one of the most prominent scholars of her society with what she learned from her. Everyone would come and learn from him what he was missing. In the history of Islam, women occupied a significant place in scientific and cultural life. Continuing education in an unofficial structure in the Islamic world and being attached to the teacher rather than to the school made it easier for women to receive education from scholars in their close circles. Among the masters of Tâceddin es-Subki, one of the great Islamic scholars, who listened and learned hadiths, 19 women are mentioned. Suyûtî learned hadith from 33, İbn-i Hacer 53 and İbn-i Asâkir 80 women,” said Dr Unsal.
On August 24th last year, the foreign ministers of the G-7 group of states – an intergovernmental political forum- urged the Taliban to retract the bans on women’s education, warning that “gender persecution may amount to a crime against humanity that will be prosecuted.”
Several media sources reported Taliban forces outside Kabul universities since the ban, stopping women from entering the buildings while allowing men to go in and finish their work.
The Minister of Higher Education, Nida Mohammad Nadim, a former provincial governor, police chief and military commander stands firmly against women’s education, saying it is against Islamic and Afghan values.
“In my opinion, it has nothing to do with Islam,” said Dr Unsal. “Because it totally goes against Pashtun traditions. In that tradition, a woman should only stay at home, cook her food, give birth to a child, and not go out unless necessary. This has nothing to do with Islam. Because the Prophet’s wife, Hatice, was a big businesswoman. Women were present in all areas of social life. In the market, in the mosque. Hz. Ömer appointed a woman named Şifa as an inspector to supervise the bazaar.”
Minister Nadim also told the media that the ban was necessary for several reasons: to prevent the mixing of genders in universities, that women did not comply with the dress code, that female students went to other provinces and lived without their families, and because the study of specific subjects and courses being taught violated the principles of Islam. These reasons do not seem convincing to the world’s public opinion.
Why does the Taliban restrict women’s education? Islam Doesn’t Deny Women Education, So Why Does the Taliban?
“In my opinion, there could be two reasons.,” explains Dr Unsal. “First, there is no state experience. They cannot read the dynamics of society correctly. They still have a tribal mentality. This makes them do very wrong things. They cannot embrace all segments of society.
The second is a kind of shift of perspective or a kind of ignorance. They interpret Islam in line with their own tribal culture. Unfortunately, this is both contrary to the universality of Islam and far from responding to the needs of modern times. Therefore, they act with a radical and marginal interpretation.”
Across the country, the Taliban have banned girls from school beyond the sixth grade, blocked women from their jobs and ordered them to wear a burqa or head-to-toe clothing in public. Women have also been banned from parks and gyms.
“Many young girls are traumatized when held. Some families in the news say that their daughter is constantly crying and cannot be comforted. Young people and families are worried about their future,” said Dr Unsal.
“Our sisters, our men have the same rights; they will be able to benefit from their rights … of course, within the frameworks that we have,” said Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid.
Despite initial promises to a more moderate Sharia rule and to respect women’s rights, the Taliban have implemented their interpretation of Islamic law/Sharia since they took control in August 2021, and evidence continues to emerge that the Taliban are violating the rights of women.
So how can the international community help Afghanistan females?
“EU should stop funding the Taliban’s business. Children from Taliban families should be sent back to Afghanistan to study there, not abroad, said Jalal.
“International donors should identify and exert the leverage they have on the Taliban, whether it’s through diplomatic sanctions, economic sanctions, aid, political pressure, and other means. They should use it to press for concrete commitments on women’s rights that will be meaningful to women and girls and measurable through monitoring,” said Jalal.
According to Dr Unsal, sanctions from international donors might not work. The Taliban has a holding and rugged character. The correct thing would be that Muslim societies, such as the organization of the Islamic Conference or Organisation of Islamic Cooperation or the communities of Islamic scholars do something in collaboration with human rights organizations which will yield faster results.
“The Taliban are disturbed by the world’s criticism of their decisions for their society and the demand for their mistakes to be corrected. They say, “Don’t interfere in our internal affairs”.
Some international universities or organizations may offer training opportunities and provide free lectures, courses and diplomas.
Another thing is that some countries with which the Taliban, not from the Western world, but from the Islamic world, can cooperate can help ease this tension through their scholars,” suggested Dr Unsal.
“Women in Afghanistan are tired of talking and sharing their stories with the foreign press and organizations. They feel like no one is going to help or can’t help,” said Jalal.
Education is an internationally recognized human right essential to Afghanistan’s economic growth and stability. The Taliban are obliged under International Law and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to respect women’s rights fully. Afghanistan ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) in 2003.
The Taliban inherits Afghanistan’s obligations under that Convention, including “pursuing by all appropriate means and without delay a policy of eliminating discrimination against women.
Women now need a male guardian to travel more than 48 miles or to undertake basic tasks such as entering government buildings, seeing a doctor or taking a taxi. They are banned from nearly all jobs except medical professions and, until Wednesday, teaching. Women also can no longer visit public parks.
Taliban’s ban on women and girls from education has permanently sentenced Afghan females to a darker future without opportunities.
“Half of society consists of men, and the other half is women. Therefore, girls have the same right to education as boys. There are vital roles that women can play in all areas of life. In some areas, they can do better jobs than men. This decision of the Ministry of National Education of Afghanistan is both a violation of human rights and a misfortune for Afghanistan,” said Dr Unsal.
*The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) is a milestone document in the history of human rights. Drafted by representatives with different legal and cultural backgrounds from all regions of the world, the Declaration was proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly in Paris on 10 December 1948 (General Assembly resolution 217 A) as a common standard of achievements for all peoples and all nations. It sets out, for the first time, fundamental human rights to be universally protected and it has been translated into over 500 languages. The UDHR is widely recognized as having inspired, and paved the way for, the adoption of more than seventy human rights treaties, applied today on a permanent basis at global and regional levels (all containing references to it in their preambles).