The U.S. Treasury announced new sanctions over the weekend against two Taliban regime officials in Afghanistan, accusing the men of roles in the systemic “repression of women and girls.” The Treasury specifically noted the Taliban’s ban on girls attending school beyond the sixth grade as “severe and pervasive discrimination.”
But while the impact on Afghan women and girls of the Taliban’s draconian crackdown on education has been well documented, a report from the New York-based organization Human Rights Watch warns that the Islamic fundamentalists’ approach to schooling is “causing irreversible damage to the Afghan education system for boys as well as girls.”
The policies, HRW warns, could create a “lost generation” of children, and “will haunt Afghanistan’s future.”
“Harming the whole school system”
HRW’s Dec. 5 report includes first-hand accounts from educators and students who describe schools that, since the Taliban’s Aug. 2021 return to power following the withdrawal of U.S.-led international forces, have adopted a far more religious-based curriculum, enforced by alleged abuse.
The report includes accounts of a rise in corporal punishment, regressive changes in the curriculum and the removal of professional female teachers from boys’ schools.
“The Taliban are causing irreversible damage to the Afghan education system for boys as well as girls,” said Sahar Fetrat, the HRW researcher who authored the report. “By harming the whole school system in the country, they risk creating a lost generation deprived of a quality education.”
HRW said students had reported “suffocating” new rules in schools under the Taliban that appear to reflect an education system rapidly returning to the conditions in the country before the conservative Islamic group was toppled by the U.S.-led invasion in 2001.
“Currently, as a student, wearing anything colorful is treated like a sin. Wearing shorts, t-shirts, ties, and suits are all treated like crimes. Having a smartphone at school can have serious consequences. Listening to music or having music on one’s phone can lead to severe physical punishment,” one student was quoted as telling HRW in the report. “Every day, there are several cases where boys get punished during morning assembly or in classrooms for some of these reasons.”
Another student was quoted by the rights group as saying female teachers with “specializations in the subjects they taught” had been removed.
“They were professionals. We are suffering from their absence now, and our four male teachers also fled the country after August 2021. Currently, we are taught by male teachers who previously taught grades four and five,” the student said, according to the report.
The Taliban-run Ministry of Education, in a statement posted on social media, rejected the HRW report and called on international institutions to visit and closely observe the situation in Afghanistan’s schools.
The statement said 245,000 teachers, including 95,000 women, were working for the Ministry of Education and that it did not fire any female teachers from their jobs.
“Even if female teachers were transferred from boy’s schools, they were not unemployed but recruited in girls’ schools,” the ministry said.
6th grade girls finish school, maybe forever
The school year in Afghanistan ends in December, and girls finishing the sixth grade will no longer be permitted to enter classrooms in the Taliban’s Afghanistan. Young women have also been barred by the Taliban from attending universities, and women excluded from many professions, including beauty salons.
Afghan education activist Shafiqa Khpalwak, speaking over the weekend on the “Afghanistan International” television network, which is based outside the country, said one teacher had told her that as she sobbed along with her students on their last day, some girls told her they wanted to fail — so they could repeat the sixth grade and keep coming to school.
“The Taliban’s impact on the education system is harming children today and will haunt Afghanistan’s future,” Fetrat said. “An immediate and effective international response is desperately needed to address Afghanistan’s education crisis.”
U.S. sanctions 2 senior Taliban officials
On Saturday, the United States Treasury imposed sanctions against 20 people worldwide, including two senior Taliban officials, over human rights abuses, marking International Human Rights Day.
The Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) imposed financial sanctions on Fariduddin Mahmood and Khalid Hanafi “for serious human rights abuse related to the repression of women and girls, including through the restriction of access to secondary education for women and girls in Afghanistan solely on the basis of gender. This gender-based restriction reflects severe and pervasive discrimination against women and girls and interferes with their enjoyment of equal protection.”
Hanafi is the Taliban’s acting Minister of Propagation of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, a powerful department within the Taliban administration that implements the group’s harsh interpretation of Islamic law through “morality” policing on the streets and in government offices. The treasury said the ministry’s enforcers “have engaged in serious human rights abuse, including killings, abductions, whippings, and beatings” and “assaulted people protesting the restrictions on women’s activity, including access to education.”
Mahmood is the acting general director of the Afghanistan Academy of Sciences. Both Hanafi and Mahmood are believed to be close to the Taliban’s supreme leader, and both are against girls’ education.
Chief Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid condemned the U.S. sanctions in a social media post, saying “pressure and restriction is not the solution to any problem.”
In his statement, written in English, Mujahid said previous efforts by the U.S. to change the Taliban’s policies through sanctions had failed. He claimed hypocrisy on the part of the U.S. which he derided as “among the biggest violators of human rights due to its support for Israel.”