International Day to Protect Education from Attack

By: Maliha Shirzay,

Stand with Afghan women on Sept 9th – International Day to Protect Education from Attack

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This text was written by Maliha Shirzay, Afghanistan Programme intern.


Join us on September 9th in honouring International Day to Safeguard Education and supporting the education and rights of Afghan women beside all people around the world. Together, we can make a difference and empower women to achieve their full potential. Let us stand in solidarity and show our commitment to this important cause.

The challenging terrain of Afghanistan has long been an obstacle to women’s human rights, exacerbated by the cruel oppression of women by the Taliban. The right to education is a fundamental right that has been repeatedly violated, primarily due to the Taliban’s reign, both in their previous period from 1996-2001 and their current period since 2021. Despite some progress, setbacks have left education for Afghan females a distant hope. The country’s long conflicts have left many aspects of society underdeveloped, intensifying the struggles of women for emancipation. It’s high time for the world to take note of this injustice and take concrete steps towards ensuring that Afghan women have equal opportunity to access education and achieve their full potential. It’s worth noting that the United Nations General Assembly has officially declared the International Day to Protect Education from Attack (UNESCO, 2023). It carries significant weight in ensuring Afghan women’s right to education under the current de facto governing authorities.

Education is a fundamental human right that should be accessible to all, regardless of gender. Knowledge is vital for personal fulfillment and success in today’s society. Regrettably, I have faced obstacles in accessing this right due to biases. As a young woman, I was prevented from pursuing my dream of becoming a medical doctor due to restrictions on traveling to Kabul City for education. Nevertheless, this dream remains close to my heart, and I am determined to find a way to fulfill it and achieve personal satisfaction even today.

It is obvious that women’s difficult access to education is rooted in the cultural legacy of the past century, which was reinforced by different colonial legacies and religious beliefs. It cannot be denied that some leaders have manipulated and distorted Islamic ideology to maintain control over women. However, it is essential to acknowledge the long-standing historical Afghan legacy and that their perspective on women was more friendly and respectful rather than derogatory and misogynistic.

To gain a deeper understanding of ancient Afghan history, it is important to explore the significant role of the goddess Ashi before the Arab and other invasions. In the Avesta, a revered ancient book, Ashi is portrayed as a powerful and admirable woman who not only protects heaven but also embodies goodness. Deana, another prominent goddess, is also featured in the book as a guide who steers individuals towards the right path in both life and the afterlife. Through the Avesta, we can observe that Afghan ancestors were on a path towards a brighter humanity before the invasions of desert dwellers throughout history. Historical records suggest that Afghan people, particularly women, were more respected in the past, dating back as far as 3000 BC. Regrettably, this value has not always been upheld in more recent times.

Thereby the dehumanization of women by the Taliban as de-facto authority is the most devastating fact, based on the fundamental interpreter of Islamic law. Beside limitation, their access to secondary and tertiary education limiting women’s mobility is unacceptable. It is crucial to bring about change and promote gender equality, which is a fundamental necessity. Women should be granted the same rights and opportunities as men, free from any form of discrimination. The crucial part is women’s rights to work in various sectors, such as NGO offices, public offices, and the judiciary system, which have been unjustly denied to them in recent times. This encompasses unrestricted access to leisure facilities, such as parks, fitness centers, sports facilities, and public baths. Furthermore, the elimination of strict dress codes for women and the removal of the restriction on traveling more than 75 km without a “mahram” (a related male escort such as a husband, father, brother, or uncle) are essential. It is crucial that women are able to exercise their freedom and live without fear of oppression or discrimination.

It is a clear violation when a country persists in imposing further restrictions despite calls from the international community and the United Nations to uphold their commitments under Human Rights treaties, such as CEDAW, ICESCR, CAT, and more. Moreover, it is time that we assertively advocate for and ensure that these vital rights are safeguarded and upheld. As long as the restrictions’ duration is unclear, urgent action is needed to end them.

In a recent news article, it was reported that the State of Qatar had taken a remarkable step by supporting 100 girls in Dubai to pursue higher education. This decision was endorsed by prominent organizations such as UNESCO and UNICEF in response to the Taliban’s recent attack on education. The act brought hope to many Afghan girls, but unfortunately, it was short-lived due to another cruel act by the Taliban. They refused to allow girls, even with a “mahram,” to leave the country, causing widespread concern. As highlighted in Sankar’s 2022 article, we must take progressive actions and stand against cruelty. Every person has the fundamental right to education, and we must ensure that it is protected. As UNSDGs advocate S.M. Nasser emphasizes, “our humanity is tested,” and we must demonstrate our commitment to securing the rights of children, particularly their right to education, through our actions on the ground, not just in words.

Access to information that aligns with local values is important for Afghanistan’s global connectivity. To achieve this, a bottom-up approach is needed that prioritises women’s needs and interests while respecting cultural and religious beliefs. Islamic feminist scholars can be instrumental in shaping this approach, which should be focused on securing women’s rights to education and aligned with international and Afghan values. It is essential to promote acceptance rather than confrontation among the Afghan people while prioritize women’s rights as a crucial part of national development goals and the Sustainable Development Goals.

Women from Afghanistan, both those residing there and abroad, are courageously advocating for the global community to take action against the Taliban’s oppressive treatment of women. Despite their unwavering determination, there is growing concern that the efforts of the international community to pressure the Taliban into improving women’s rights may not be adequate. Thereby we should seek effective action that shows result.

It is still great that the international community honoured Afghan women’s grief over the Taliban’s ban on female education. They declared September 9 as the First International Day to Protect Education from Attack, which was proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly (UNESCO, 2023). It’s time to take action and show our unwavering support for Afghan women’s right to education on September 9th – International Day to Safeguard Education.

Let’s stand united and make our voices heard!



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