The Rise and Fall of the Right to Education for Afghan Women

On April 6, 2023, the White House released a twelve-page document which “outlines the key decisions and challenges surrounding the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan.”[1] A sensitive topic given the hyper partisan nature of politics in the United States today. However, lost in this debate are discussions of those who have suffered the most from the decision to withdraw, the women of Afghanistan. Mentioned only once and tucked away in the second to last page of the report is a reference to the “rights of women and girls in Afghanistan.”[2] To understand how dire the current situation is for Afghan women; one must first recognize the progress that was made over the past twenty years in order to comprehend the dramatic decrease in human rights over the past two years.  

One of the most empowering and prominent success stories at the beginning of the Afghanistan War was the meteoric rise of educational rights for women. The right to education has always been, and always be, a fundamental right for democratic societies.[3] When the Taliban fell in 2001 almost no girls were attending school.[4] Data from the World Bank illuminates the drastic increase of young girls enrolled in school. In 2000 and 2001, 0% of females were enrolled in primary school.[5] In 2003 that number increased to 67%, only two years after the fall of the Taliban.[6] Between 2012 and 2014, the percentage of girls enrolled in primary school plateaued around 86%.[7]

The longest war in U.S. history ended abruptly when the Taliban swept through Afghanistan’s capital on August 15, 2021.[8] The fall of Kabul foreshadowed the fall of educational rights for Afghan women. A “temporary” pause was put on women attending high school, while college aged women were subjected to strict regulations such as gender segregation.[9] In December of 2022 these temporary restrictions expanded in scope and became permanent. The Taliban put forth the following edict, “the highest level of education most Afghan girls will be able to attain is grade 6 – the final year of primary school.”[10] This regression of rights for Afghan girls is compounded by the severe economic crisis ravaging the country. The situation is so dire that “[o]ut of desperation, many families have resorted to marrying off their young daughters, offloading responsibility for their care and protection.”[11] The question must be asked, is the West taking action to remedy these serious human rights abuses which it played a hand in creating?

The G7 leaders put forth a statement shortly after the fall of Kabul in which the international community promised to “address the critical questions facing Afghanistan” and that “the Taliban will be held accountable…on human rights in particular those of women, girls and minorities.”[12] The West quickly answered these critical questions with economic sanctions. The sanctions crippled the economy, 6 million Afghan citizens are at risk of famine and the UN is providing food for half the Afghan population, roughly 20 million people.[13] The Taliban have not only been unfazed by these sanctions, but they are doubling down. On April 4, 2023, the United Nations was informed that female Afghan employees of the UN “have been banned by the ruling Taliban from working in the country.”[14]

The International Crisis Group has suggested a variety of solutions including advocating for long-term social changes and addressing the root causes of a weak Afghan economy.[15] The solutions proposed require diplomatic negotiations between the West and Afghanistan’s new government. Unfortunately, representatives of the Afghan government were not present at the recently held “Summit for Democracy 2023.”[16] As mentioned previously, the White House report on the withdrawal from Afghanistan only mentioned women’s rights once. It does not appear to be a pressing enough issue for Western governments to address.

Although a dreary outlook for the foreseeable future, all hope is not lost. In a rather remarkable mixture of human perseverance and modern technology the women of Afghanistan have turned to online learning to circumvent the restrictions imposed upon them.[17] Institutions such as the University of the People, FutureLearn, and Education Bridge have been enrolling Afghan women into their online courses.[18] An institution called Learn Afghanistan offers courses in software development that “take place in rooms with computers hooked up to generators, all in discreet locations to avoid Taliban detection.”[19] Relief may not be on the horizon, but it is imperative for the women of Afghanistan to fight for their right to education. A famous quote of Nelson Mandela summarizes why it is imperative the women of Afghanistan learn by whatever means they can, “education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”[20]

[1] U.S. Withdrawal from Afghanistan, The White House, at 1, (Apr. 6, 2023),

[2] Id. at 11.

[3] See Guide on Article 2 of Protocol No. 1 to the European Convention on Human Rights – Right to education, European Court of Human Rights, at 6, (Aug. 31, 2022),

[4] Atefa Alizada & Amie Ferris-Rotman, The U.S. Is Leaving Afghanistan, the Taliban Is Growing in Power, and Education for Girls and Women Is Already at Risk, Time (Jul. 7, 2021),,from%20medicine%20to%20miniature%20painting.

[5] School enrollment, primary, female (% gross) – Afghanistan, The World Bank (accessed Apr. 29, 2023),

[6] Id.

[7] Id.

[8] Emma Graham-Harrison & Luke Harding, The fall of Kabul: a 20-year mission collapses in a single day, The Guardian (Aug. 15, 2021),

[9] Diaa Hadid, ‘The Taliban took our last hope’: College education is banned for women in Afghanistan, NPR (Dec. 20, 2022),

[10] Id.

[11] Forced out of school, but refusing to give up on education in Afghanistan, United Nations (Sep. 25, 2022),

[12] G7 Leaders statement on Afghanistan, European Union (Aug. 24, 2021),

[13] Jane Ferguson & Zeba Warsi, Afghanistan sinks deeper into crisis as sanctions take heavy toll on civilians, PBS (Aug. 26, 2022),

[14] Rahim Faiez, UN says Taliban bar female Afghan staffers from working, The Associated Press (Apr. 4, 2023),

[15] Taliban Restrictions on Women’s Rights Deepen Afghanistan’s Crisis, International Crisis Group (Feb. 23, 2023),

[16] Peter Bergen, Opinion: Why Biden’s support for democracy rings a little hollow, CNN (Mar. 28, 2023),

[17] Ruchi Kumar, The Taliban ended college for women. Here’s how Afghan women are defying the ban, NPR (Feb. 24, 2023),,high%20school%20since%20the%20takeover.

[18] Id.

[19] Id.

[20] Valerie Strauss, Nelson Mandela on the power of education, The Washington Post (Dec. 5, 2013),