Afghan education minister Farooq Wardak has said a paradigm shift may be coming in the battle for women’s education, telling the media recently that the Taliban had undergone a “cultural change” and decided to end their opposition to girls’ education in the country. While Wardak is close to Afghan President Hamid Karzai – and involved in reconciliation talks with the Taliban – members of the militant group have not confirmed his statement.
Indeed, even within the Taliban it appears there are contrasting views on the issue, with the Taliban’s former Ambassador to Islamabad, Mullah Zaeef, telling the BBC that the ban imposed by the Taliban was “a temporary measure” due to the group’s disapproval of co-education and of male teachers teaching women. In addition to the Taliban, others in Afghan society have also opposed educating women for various reasons. As the education minister said, “In the deepest pockets of our society, not only the Taliban, there was not very friendly behavior towards education.”
Beyond these cultural obstacles identified by the minister, millions of Afghans who brave violence and tackle prejudices to send their children to school, face even more challenges. With the country ranked amongst the world’s poorest and still recovering from thirty years of conflict and war, schools are struggling to make ends meet and provide a quality education to their students.
Despite the hardships, Afghans of all ethnic groups – including parents of Barakat students – are determined to provide their children with previously unimaginable opportunities through the power of education. As Wardak went on to say, “During the Taliban era the percentage of girls of the one million students that we had was zero percent. The percent of female teachers was zero percent… today 38 % of our students and 30 % of our teachers are female.” Hopefully, with the minister’s announcement, Afghanistan can look forward to these numbers rising in years to come.