Afghan Men's Moral Obligations Regarding the Taliban's Ban on Girls' Education
Photo Credit: A small group of women rally in support of women’s education, outside a girls high school in Kabul, Afghanistan, Sept. 30, 2021. (Victor J. Blue/The New York Times)
By Mohammad Noman Baber
The 20th century was marked by a period of profound global transformation, with significant changes in the political, social, economic, and human rights spheres. Afghanistan, despite its deep-rooted religious and traditional background, enjoyed these fundamental developments. In fact, Afghan society actively embraced these global changes. Afghan men and women played essential roles in shaping their country's future. Over time, they worked tirelessly to advance fundamental human rights, particularly the right to education, ensuring that both girls and boys had access to learning opportunities. But in the 1990s, several political reforms and the emergence of the first Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan marked a period of profound reversion and tragedy for the country. The Taliban, under Mullah Mohammad Omar's leadership, not only marginalized women and excluded them from politics and social life, but also subjected them to a vast number of harsh decrees, including banning girls from pursuing education beyond the sixth grade, thereby depriving them of their fundamental right to education.
After 2001, when Hamid Karzai and then Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai were in charge, Afghan women benefited from participation in politics, economics, society, and most importantly education. But now, with the fall of the Republic and the Taliban's return, Afghan women are once again marginalized from the societal-political spheres and are banned from pursuing education above sixth grade. Now the key question revolves around the moral responsibilities of Afghan men regarding the “ban on girls' education”, what actions and strategies should they adopt to enable their daughters to pursue their education, or should they remain silent and wait for potential reforms? During the two years of Taliban rule, Afghan women took to the streets to demand their basic rights, but what about the role of men in society? Why didn't men stand alongside their sisters and support their cause? Shouldn't the government in power be aware of the people's desire to restore women's rights? What's been holding Afghan men back from supporting their sisters during these challenging times, and is there hope for change without their active involvement?
Professor Mashal who runs a private university in Kabul and is well known for his critique of the Taliban banning girls' education said: “I call on fathers to take the hands of their daughters and walk them to school, even if the gates are shut, even if they're not allowed in - they should do this daily. It's the least they can do to prove they are men." In response to the closure of girls' schools, male students from Nangarhar Medical University held demonstrations, demanding the swift repeal of the order. They issued warnings that unless girls were allowed to continue their education, they would not attend their own classes. Additionally, several professors from both government and private universities resigned from their positions, insisting on the cancellation of the ban on girls' education.
However, male students soon returned to their classes, and since then, there hasn't been any significant, effective action or strategy implemented, except for criticisms voiced on social media platforms. Given the circumstances, it is reasonable to question whether Afghan men have done enough to restore their sisters' rights and support their daughters' education. Why has the value placed on their daughters' education been so low? When fathers prepare their sons for school in the morning while their daughters watch with eyes filled with pain and despair, couldn't these fathers have at the very least, stood with Professor Mashal's call for men to accompany their daughters to the school gate, even if it is shut? This would have demonstrated that Afghan men are not opposed to their daughters' education but are actively advocating for it. Is it not a grave injustice for men to remain silent when it comes to defending the rights of their daughters and sisters?
Now, it is crucial to reach out to Afghan men and encourage them to stand up for their sisters and daughters, and to defend their rights. We must ensure that history does not remember Afghan men as silent bystanders who abandoned their sisters and daughters when they needed their support the most. We should employ every available means, whether through demonstrations or writing, to convey the people's will and intentions to the ruling government. This should be a continuous effort and should include pressuring the government to repeal this unfortunate policy. We want to show the world that Afghan men are not opposed to women's education; in fact, we are actively fighting for it.
Today, the Taliban are denying girls the right to education in the name of culture and tradition. This is unjustifiable. The notion that Afghan culture opposes girls' education is unfounded, baseless, and far from reality. History shows us that there are remarkable and educated women from Afghanistan, such as Rabia Balkhi, Makhfi Badakhshi, Malaly, and countless others who continue to inspire us with their brilliance and courage. Over the past two decades, we have seen the vibrant presence of girls in schools and universities, underscoring the Afghan people's strong desire for the education of their daughters. Therefore, we must not let a few individuals, under the guise of religion and culture and through unfair interpretations, deprive our girls and sisters of their fundamental rights.
Afghan men must understand that it is a moral obligation to be the voices of their sisters and daughters and to stand by them in these challenging times. Afghan women are aware of the risks they face when they decide to protest. They understand the terrible possibility of arrest, imprisonment, and even torture. Yet, they exhibit immense bravery as they continue to fight for their rights. They believe in the righteousness of their cause, not just for themselves but for future generations born in their homeland. These courageous women refuse to see their children's future marred by the same limitations they have experienced, particularly the denial of the fundamental right to education. As I mentioned earlier, it is both a moral and conscientious obligation for every Afghan man to ensure that his daughters are not subjected to such marginalization and are not deprived of their basic human rights. Unity is a source of strength, and just as courageous women have stood by their men in the past, during wars against aggressors, today, men must find the courage to protect and uphold women's rights.
Mohammad Noman Baber, is currently pursuing a degree in Political Science at York University in Toronto, Ontario. He has been an executive committee member of the Association of Private Schools in Afghanistan. His experiences reflect a blend of academic pursuit, advocacy, and a commitment to sharing insights on crucial issues.
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