International Law

Afghani Schools, Women’s Human Rights, and the Rule of Law

If you're an adult Afghani woman, you're probably one of the 94% who never attended school because the Taliban prohibited it. Although 3 million girls now attend school in Afghanistan, the long-term prospects for receiving an education are grim.

To attend school means to risk your life. Walking to and from school you could be beaten, attacked with acid, or killed. At school, you risk being a victim of one of hundreds of bombings and other attacks that have occurred by those who believe your education violates Islamic tenets.

Assuming you are not physically attacked, there is a good chance that between 12 and 16 years of age your father or other male member of your household will sell you into an arranged marriage. Your education ends without your consent.

Even if your family wants you to continue your education, there may not be a school for you to attend because your religion and culture forbids males to serve as teachers to female students.

The shortage of female teachers is also the result of persecution under the pretense of doing Allah's will. For example, one woman serves in full burqa as a member of the Afghan Uniformed Police with her husband's consent. She lives in fear of other family members finding out about her job.

As a cover, she tells some that she works as a teacher. However, this police officer risks being beaten by family members who would disapprove of her teaching instead of staying at home.

There are also financial dangers plaguing the educational system that may soon end the education of many children of both genders. For instance, the British military built many schools and hospitals. Now the Afghani government claims it lacks the financial resources to keep these facilities open.

To be sure, there are a few bright spots on the educational scene. Razia Jan's Zabuli Education Center teaches hundreds of girls. Dr. Sima Simar, a human rights activist, has opened more than a hundred Afghani schools through her Shuhada Organization, with a focus on providing education to young females.

If there is to be long-term peace in Afghanistan, education of the future men and women will be necessary. To that end, steps must be taken to ensure that today's female students continue to attend school.

First, the rule of law must be applied firmly to deal with those who would attack female schoolgirls or teachers regardless of the motivation behind such attacks. If a man's tenets condemn this, he may believe as he wishes, but under the Afghani constitution and international conventions he has to respect the tenets of Afghani women and girls who wish to get an education.  If an Afghani man seeks to act on his beliefs which clash with the Afghani women's beliefs, the Afghani government needs to invoke the rule of law and take action to deter and punish actions taken upon such a man's actions. As part of such deterrence, there should be secure transportation and facilities protected by law enforcement members who support women receiving an education.

Second, arranged marriages should be prohibited until a female student voluntarily terminates her studies, whether at age 16 or after completion of a post-graduate degree. Under ideal circumstances, arranged marriages would be abolished. However, that is unlikely to occur in the near-term given Afghani culture.

Third, the international community should work through NGOs in conjunction with the Afghani government to ensure that there is sufficient funding to maintain the schools and to provide an adequate supply of female teachers to staff them.

Unless proactive steps are taken now to protect the rights of Afghani women to an education, another generation will be consigned to illiteracy, subservience, and dependency, and the growth of the Afghani nation and economy will be dramatically stunted.

Recommended Reading

Afghan girls defy attackers to learn for emancipation, India Today (Sept. 28, 2012)

'A ray of hope' where girls didn't count, CNN (Sept. 27, 2012)

British-built schools in Afghanistan may be forced to close, UK Telegraph (Sept. 27, 2012)

Alternative Nobel Prize to Hazara Human Rights Activist Sima Samar, Kabul Press (Sept. 27, 2012)

Undercover security: the Afghan women taking on the Taliban, UK Guardian (Sept. 27, 2012)