Afghanistan: The Lasting Impacts of Education Denial


I. Brief History of Afghanistan and Women’s Right to Education

From 1919 to 1929, Afghanistan was under King Amanullah’s rule, directly after gaining independence from Britain.[1] Under his rule, women were encouraged to seek education, going directly against Afghanistan’s historically male-oriented society.[2] Because of this initiative, he was overthrown, and Nadir Shah stepped into power.[3] Under Shah’s more cautious rule, as well as Mohammed Zahir directly after Shah, the educational opportunities for women continued to expand.[4] For example, by the 1970s, over sixty percent of Kabul University’s student body was women.

But this would not last long. When the Soviet Union occupied Afghanistan from 1979 to 1989, war broke out to reverse women’s opportunities and return to the traditional male-dominated culture.[6] As a result, schools were destroyed, and millions of people fled the country.[7] Those remaining struggled to find adequate schools to attend, as there was now a lack of teachers and materials, and many now lived in poverty.[8] Following the Soviet Union, religious groups overtook Afghanistan, with the Taliban being the most well-known and influential.[9]

The Soviet Union was originally defeated by the mujahedeen, a group of Islamic fighters, with the assistance of the United States.[10] The Taliban (name meaning “students”), was made up many members of the mujahadeen, and they promised to prioritize Islamic values in Afghanistan.[11] Ruling from 1996 to 2001, they built an infamous reputation for abusing girls’ and women’s human rights.[12] In 2001, the United States ended the Taliban’s rule.[13] Women were able to receive higher education and work.[14] However, when US troops returned home in 2021, the Taliban rose to power once again, and have returned Afghanistan to a male-oriented country, restricting education and work to men.[15]

II. Taliban Control and Its Influence on Women’s Education

Under Taliban rule, Afghan girls are prohibited from attending school past the sixth grade.[16] Afghanistan is the only country in the world where girls are not allowed to attend school beyond the primary level.[17] This is more “generous” from the Taliban’s previous restrictions, as girls were unable to attend school past the age of eight.[18] In total, only three percent of the country’s girls have received some form of education.[19] Before the Taliban’s control, women were represented in high-level positions: 9 women held minster positions, 63 women were in parliament, 280 women were judges, and thousands of women were business owners.[20] But now, women are not even allowed to study the law or economics.[21] Further, teachers are now forced to take religious tests, as a way to limit the number of teachers available for girls.[22] As girls become older, they can only be taught by women.[23] Administered by the Ministry of Education and the Ministry for the Propagation of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, these tests are held to separate the experienced teachers and exchange them for those educated in madrassas, or religion.[24] This allows the Taliban to engrain the male-dominant culture into children at a young age.[25]

One key difference between the Taliban’s control in the early 2000s and the present is the access to technology and the internet.[26] Whereas girls in the early 2000s were isolated from the outside world, now, girls can stay “connected” and attend virtual classes, if their families have the resources to provide internet and the necessary technology.[27] However, the reality is that most families cannot afford to offer the opportunity of online courses.[28]

III. Article Laws the Taliban Violates

Everyone is entitled to education.[29] Further, secondary education should be accessible to everyone as well.[30] Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages. Elementary education shall be compulsory. Technical and professional education shall be made generally available and higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit.”[31] The Taliban directly violates these laws. 2.5 million girls and women are unable to receive education because the Taliban has denied them access.[32] Further, as girls become older, they are unable to be taught by a man, yet less than twenty percent of the country’s teachers are women.[33] Co-education has been banned as well, so girls cannot join classes with their male peers.[34]

Afghanistan also signed the Convention on the Elimination of All Form of Discrimination Against Women (“CEDAW”) in 1980.[35] Article 11(1)(a) of CEDAW states that “the right to work is an ‘inalienable right of all human beings.’ Article 11(1)(c) guarantees women the right to a free choice of profession and employment.”[36] While these specific laws focus on employment, the lack of education girls receive limits the jobs available for them as they get older. Women are also prohibited from working outside the home.[37] Restricting women’s jobs is a clear violation of CEDAW Article 11(1)(c), as women are not able to freely choose their professions, especially if they are not able to receive a proper education.

IV. Consequences of a Lack of Education

Prohibiting girls from attending school at such a young age leads to many psychological consequences.[38] With no future of higher education, many girls become depressed and suicidal.[39] In addition, many girls turn to drugs, as it provides an escape from reality.[40] For example, one student says that she “like[s] being in [her] imaginary world [she has] created for [her]self. There, [she is] safe, and [she] can do whatever [she] want[s]… in that world, [she is] going to graduate next year and become a pilot.’”[41] There is also a lack of resources for girls facing these psychological problems. In Afghanistan, women may only receive health care from another woman.

There has also been a rise in the number of forced marriages since the Taliban rose back into power in 2021.[45] Young girls are forced into arranged marriages to pay off family debts, and to attempt to avoid lifelong poverty.[46] Before resorting to marriage, families will move across the country, and even work in other countries and send money home, to afford to send their daughters/sisters to school.[47] Even still, there are an overwhelming number of obstacles, such as distance to the nearest school.[48] One girl said that “by the time [she] walked to school, the school day would end.’”[49] Without a future of high education and the possibility of a high paying profession, parents no longer see any escape of struggle except to arrange for their daughters to marry into a wealthier family.[50] Over a third of Afghanistan’s girls are married before their eighteenth birthday.[51] Once married, most girls no longer have any chance at education, as their husbands “compel” them to drop out if currently enrolled.[52]

V. Conclusion

Because of the Taliban’s strict rule, Afghanistan is one of the world’s most dangerous countries to be a woman.[53] Further, any statistics are difficult to attain and may not even be accurate.[54] For example, the Afghan government considers a child as attending school until they have been absent for three years.[55] Even still, the regulations and restrictions placed on Afghan women are detrimental to their futures.[56] International human rights organizations should continue to pressure Afghanistan to allow girls to receive proper education. Countries should continue to be a place of refuge for those seeking a better life for their families.[57]

Human Rights Watch urges donor countries and other organizations to continue to donate to Afghanistan to fund quality schools and teachers.[58] Before the Taliban rose to power in 2021, half of Afghanistan’s government budget came from international donors.[59] Without the aide of other countries, there is no hope for girls to receive a quality education, as the teachers can only go unpaid for so long.[60] Countries can support community based education and fund primary education, where girls have not been excluded.[61] Further, they can monitor the communities their funds impact, ensuring that that their donations are used for its correct purposes.[62]

Organizations, like the Malala Fund, have been founded to support the continuation of education for girls in Afghanistan.[63] The Malala Fund sponsors local organizations such as Education Champions in Afghanistan to invest in teachers and ensure that girls are receiving a quality education.[64] The Malala Fund also provides monetary support for families to relocate to remain safe while seeking an education.[65] Further, the Malala Fund continues to advocate and pressure the Taliban to reopen schools and allow access to education for all.[66] By spreading awareness and providing support for those in need, hopefully the Taliban will reconsider the bans it has placed on Afghanistan, and its lasting impact on the country.

[1] The Editors of Encyclopedia Britannica, Amanullah Khan Ruler of Afghanistan, (last updated Feb. 12, 2024).

[2] Flying Down to Kabul Women in Afghanistan: Education (Aug. 1, 2006),

[3] Id.

[4] Id.

[5] Id.

[6] Id.

[7] Id.

[8] Id.

[9] Id.

[10] Eric Nagourney and Christina Goldbaum, Who are the Taliban (Aug. 11, 2022),

[11] Id.

[12] Amnesty International, Women in Afghanistan: the Back Story, (last visited Mar. 29, 2024).

[13] Supra note 10.

[14] Id.

[15] Id.

[16] Fershta Barakzai, Women’s Education Under the Taliban Women’s Experiences in Two Different Regimes of the Taliban Similarities and Differences, (last visited Mar. 31, 2024).

[17] Belquis Ahmadi and Hodei Sultan, Taking a Terrible Toll: The Taliban’s Education Ban (April 13, 2023),

[18] Supra note 16.

[19] Supra note 2, at ¶6.

[20] Supra note 17, at ¶7.

[21] Id.

[22] Id.

[23] Human Rights Watch, Afghanistan: Girls Struggle for an Education Insecurity, Government Inaction, and Donor Disengagement Reversing Vital Gains (Oct. 17, 2017 at 2:00am)

[24] Supra note 17, at ¶15.

[25] Supra note 2.

[26] Supra note 16, at ¶37.

[27] Id.

[28] Zahra Joya and Rukhshana Media reporters, ‘No escape’ for Afghan Girls Forced Out of Education and Into Early Marriage (Feb. 9, 2023 at 2:00am),,required%20women’s%20consent%20to%20matrimony.

[29] Human Rights Watch, I Won’t Be a Doctor and One Day You’ll be Sick (Oct. 17, 2017),

[30] Id.

[31] Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Dec. 10, 1948, U.N.G.A No. 26.

[32] Supra note 16 at ¶29.

[33] Human Rights Watch, Afghanistan: Girls Struggle for an Education, Insecurity, Government Inaction, and Donor Disengagement Reversing Vital Gains (Oct. 17, 2017 at 2:00am),

[34] Supra note 17.

[35] Human Rights Watch, Afghanistan: Humanity Denied,,choice%20of%20profession%20and%20employment (last visited Mar. 31, 2024).

[36] Id.

[37] Supra note 16.

[38] Supra note 17 at ¶9.

[39] Id.

[40] Id.

[41] Id.

[42] Supra note 2 at ¶6.

[43] Id.

[44] Supra note 17 at ¶14.

[45] Supra note 28 at ¶10.

[46] Id.

[47] Supra note 23 at ¶8.

[48] Id.

[49] Id.

[50] Supra note 28.

[51] Supra note 28.

[52] Id.

[53] Reuters, Factbox: Which are the World’s 10 Most Dangerous Countries for Women (June 25, 2018),

[54] Supra note 29.

[55] Id.

[56] Supra note 34.

[57] Supra note 27 at ¶10.

[58] Human Rights Watch, Four Ways to Support Girls’ Access to Education in Afghanistan (March 20, 2022),

[59] Id.

[60] Id.

[61] Id.

[62] Id.

[63] The Malala Fund, Afghanistan, (last visited April 14, 2024).

[64] Id.

[65] Id.

[66] Id.