Why millions of girls in Afghanistan can’t go to school

Story by CBC Kids News • Published 2022-05-02 07:00

Expert says to ‘speak out’ on behalf of Afghan girls


It’s been more than a month since millions of girls in Afghanistan were told they can no longer go to school, and according to one expert, it’s time for the world to step up and help.

On March 23, Afghanistan's Taliban rulers decided against reopening schools to girls above the sixth grade, breaking their promise that girls of all grades would be returning to school that day.

The Taliban, an Islamist extremist group that has been waging war in the country for nearly 30 years, took over Afghanistan in August 2021.

Many feared they would strip back the rights of women, as they did during their rule in the 1990s.

At the time, we published an article explaining the history of the Taliban in Afghanistan, which may be a helpful piece to go back and read before reading on.

In response, the international community has urged Taliban leaders to open schools and give women their right to public space.

But is that enough? What else is being done?

The country of Afghanistan is located at the crossroads of Central and South Asia. (Graphic design by Philip Street/CBC)

What’s happening to Afghan girls?

The Taliban believes in a strict interpretation of religious laws that can severely limit the human rights of its citizens, especially women.

In the past, TV shows, music and movies were banned in Afghanistan by the Taliban and women weren’t allowed to work, drive or go to school.

The Taliban was previously in power from 1996 until 2001, when it was ousted by the United States army during the war in Afghanistan.

When the Taliban came back into power in August, during the pandemic, it took months to reopen schools for boys.

Women and teachers demonstrate to demand equal education for women and girls at a private school in Kabul, Afghanistan in 2021. (Image credit: Ahmad Halabisaz/The Associated Press)

The Taliban said girls would need to wait until March 23 to return as they made changes to the school curriculum.

But when girls from Grade 6 to 12 showed up at school that day, they were told to go home.

Response to Taliban decision

Lauryn Oates is an executive director of Canadian Women for Women in Afghanistan. She told CBC Kids News that millions of girls across the country were heartbroken by the news.

“They were sad, furious, confused,” said Oates.

“We heard from a lot of girls who just felt hopeless and had been waiting [at] home for months, only to find out they couldn’t go back to school.”

Waheedullah Hashmi, who is a external relations and donor representative with the Taliban-led administration, said in a statement: "We don't say they will be closed forever.”

Regardless, many officials around the world urged the Taliban to reconsider.

This included U.S. Special Representative Thomas West, who tweeted his “shock and deep disappointment.”

He said the Taliban had made it clear that all Afghans have a right to education, adding, “For the sake of the country’s future and its relations with the international community, I would urge the Taliban to live up to their commitments to their people.”

Why does this matter?

Like West, Oates said this is a violation of human rights.

Lauryn Oates teaches in the Human Security and Peacebuilding program at Royal Roads University. She has led projects that include basic literacy classes for girls and women who missed out on their education under the Taliban. (Image credit: Tallulah)

Along with Canada, Afghanistan has signed a document called “the Universal Declaration of Human Rights,” which includes a commitment that every citizen has the right to an education.

Oates said if we don’t hold countries to the promises they’ve agreed to, the document becomes pointless.

“When that right [to education] is under threat, we have to stand up for it, because if we don’t that right could be threatened elsewhere.”

Open your doors to Afghanistan, says expert

Oates said it isn’t enough for the international community to urge the Taliban to reopen schools.

Other countries need to make the process for Afghan girls and their families to leave the country easier, Oates said, in the same way they have for Ukrainian refugees.

“These tragic situations are so incredibly similar,” said Oates. “Both are about the violent takeover of a country and innocent people facing the consequences and wanting basic freedoms, yet the response of the world has been so, so different.” 

In late March, Afghan interpreters gathered in Ottawa in front of the Centennial Flame, demanding the Canadian government bring over their loved ones who are still stuck in Afghanistan. Only 10,000 of the 40,000 Afghan refugees that the Canadian government committed to bringing to Canada have arrived since August. (Image credit: Ahmad Sahel Arman/AFP/Getty Images)

Oates said that people tend to see Afghanistan differently than they see Ukraine.

“There’s a view of Afghanistan, that it’s fundamentally different from us, the culture is different, and so we have a harder time relating to them or seeing ourselves in them,” said Oates.

“They want the exact same things as us — they want safety.”

Helping girls receive their education

Oates said that for girls who stay in Afghanistan, her organization and others are trying to help by giving them options to learn from home.

Elementary school girls attend a class after their school reopened in Kabul for the start of the new school year on March 23. Girls beyond the sixth grade were told to go home that day. (Image credit: Ahmad Sahel Arman/Getty Images)

This includes sending laptops and other technology for learning, creating online courses for girls to access and sending other materials, such as books, that girls without an internet connection can use to learn.

She also said that people and companies can contribute money to scholarships to allow Afghan girls to study abroad.

However, the easiest way is to help draw attention to the plight of Afghan girls, Oates said, adding that change can happen if the media and government start to see that the public shows that they care.

Earlier this year, students at Calgary Charter Girls School and Cedar Grove Elementary in Gibsons, B.C. showed support for girls in Afghanistan who can’t go to school by participating in school-wide walkouts.  (Image credit: Canadian Women for Women in Afghanistan)

“Each person can do something, whether it be posting on social media, talking to your class about it, or starting conversations within your family,” said Oates.

What’s next?

Until the international community takes more action, Oates said that the future of Afghan girls appears bleak.

That being said, there is hope as some people in Afghanistan have spoken out against the Taliban.

“Afghans are demonstrating very clearly that they don’t want this government, they don’t want these rules, and they will continue to leave,” said Oates.

Have more questions? Want to tell us how we're doing? Use the “send us feedback” link below. ⬇️⬇️⬇️

With files from The Associated Press,CBC News, Raffy Boudjikanian/CBC

Was this story worth reading?