Afghanistan’s Education Crisis Under the Taliban: Ensuring Access for Women and Girls

Tuesday, February 8, 2022

10:00 AM – 11:30 AM EST

Read the Event Transcript

Watch the Event Recording

The Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace, and Security hosted an expert discussion on solutions for addressing the education crisis in Afghanistan on February 8, 2022.  

Over the last two decades, Afghan women and girls made tremendous gains in education, making up almost 38 percent of the students in the country by 2018 and increasingly pursuing higher education. In a consequential reversal, the Taliban have severely restricted education for women and girls – barring women from universities, banning girls’ secondary schooling, and preventing even younger girls from attending school in many provinces. Despite claims that schooling will eventually resume, the quality and type of education under their extreme Islamic views has remained an open question.

Panelists shared key recommendations for how to holistically address the education crisis in Afghanistan by discussing how to engage with the Taliban on education, ensure wider education access for girls, collaborate with civil society actors, and mobilize the international community, all while centering the agency of Afghan women in the response.  


Engaging with the Taliban

  • The United States and its allies should make any recognition of the Taliban contingent on their providing education to women and girls, among other conditions, including publicly releasing new policies on girls’ education. Coordinated action and conditionality can be powerful tools in ensuring the Taliban will support women’s education.
  • The international community should use its leverage to push the Taliban to reopen public universities. Measures to re-integrate Afghan girls into educational institutions and provide them with learning opportunities are only possible if public institutions for higher education are available and accessible. 
  • Monitoring and accountability measures are critical to ensuring educational reforms are implemented. The United States and international partners, including Special Rapporteurs, must monitor in-country changes – the percentage of girls in school, sustained access to higher education, and provision of teacher salaries – and levy consequences for inaction.


Scaling Best Practices

  • Utilize technology and online learning systems to reach a wider range of Afghan girls. Innovative models such as offline applications, digital community spaces, and widely-distributed radio lessons are key solutions to expanding education access. Addressing the gendered digital divide and leveraging new forms of power, such as solar panels and offline learning bytes, can help mitigate electricity and connectivity issues across the country.
  • Replicate Afghan women-led educational models that are working to educate women and girls. The SOLA model of boarding schools for girls run by educated Afghan women can be scaled to expand access to girls in rural provinces, where the percentage of female teachers is often less than five percent. LEARN also provides access to technological education, resources, professional training, and mentorship in underserved and impoverished areas, particularly for girls who lack access to formal schooling systems. 


Ensuring Effective Education Assistance

  • International donors should increase the percentage of funding for girls’ education, and ensure appropriate and sustainable government support for educational systems. The education sector must be prioritized in any international donor package, and coordinated with local and national NGOs implementing projects on the ground. 
  • Re-open educational assistance offices and provide scholarships for women and girls seeking higher education. International institutions must work in Afghanistan to create the conditions for girls to be integrated in public colleges and afford private institutions.


Resourcing and Investing in Afghan Teachers 

  • Expand efforts to train women teachers at the village and local levels. Addressing the shortage of educated teachers, especially in rural provinces, is critical to ensure the continuation of girls’ education. 
    • Pushback against the notion that girls must only be taught by women teachers. The Taliban’s requirement that girls only be taught by women teachers poses a significant barrier to educational parity. Preferences for gender-specific classrooms in some areas of the country should be respected, but this should not be the norm or codified into law. Given the shortage of women teachers, this will be a Taliban excuse for not providing girls’ education, which must not be allowed to happen.   
  • International actors should provide stipends to Afghan teachers and establish an effective monitoring system to ensure payment. With Afghanistan’s near-economic collapse, teachers must have a means of livelihood to continue providing educational opportunities to children. Increased collaboration between international actors and civil society partners is needed to ensure stipend payments are successfully transferred to teachers.


Empowering Girls Through Education and Finance 

  • General studies curricula should include practical lessons, courses, and learning opportunities that can directly translate into economic empowerment. Education for girls must be oriented toward financial independence, and include courses that can increase earning potential, such as in STEM, economics, freelancing, web development, and journalism. 


Countering Persistent Gender Norms

  • Collaborating with religious and community leaders is crucial to building local trust and breaking down harmful gender norms that restrict girls’ education. The Afghan Women’s Educational Center (AWEC) works to implement community-based educational programs that include an Islamic perspective on the right to education for women and girls, which helps build trust between mullahs, village leaders, and community members to counter resistance at the local level. 


Mobilizing the International Community 

  • Muslim-majority countries can provide positive examples of women’s education, leadership, and agency in an Islamic framework. Regional countries can play a powerful role in convincing the Taliban that women’s rights and education are consistent with Islam.
  • Tailored sanctions, while critical, should target perpetrators rather than denying the Afghan people education, economic support, and humanitarian relief. Levying sanctions against the Afghan people is detrimental to national economic stability, particularly for women. Sanctions should be targeted towards Taliban leaders, direct financial channels, or governments and international organizations providing support for the Taliban. 


Ensuring the Agency of Afghan Women

  • The international community must recognize the efforts of Afghan women and amplify their voices. Afghan women demand a seat at the table and must have the agency to lead educational efforts in their home country. International actors should facilitate dialogue and the implementation of tried-and-true educational models on the ground.  


The panel of leading Afghan women included Shabana Basij-Rasikh, Co-Founder and President, School of Leadership Afghanistan; Pashtana Durrani, Co-Founder and Managing Director of LEARN; Deema Hiram, Malala Fund Gulmakai Champion and Program Implementation Manager, The Afghan Women’s Educational Center; Maria Raheen, Former Director of Journalism and Mass Communication, Balkh University; Palwasha Hassan, Director, The Afghan Women’s Educational Center and Senior Fellow, the Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace, and Security. This event series and policy recommendations are part of Onward for Afghan Women, a project of the Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace, and Security.