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Women's Rights in Afghanistan
Wandering the streets of Kabul, Afghanistan in the 1960s, one passed lively, miniskirt-clad women alongside male friends as they strolled to their university classes. Heiresses to a new age of freedom, these women voted, laughed and lived freely, invigorated by the progressive spirit that pervaded every corner of the city. Beginning in the 1970s, however, conflict and poor governance gradually weakened women’s societal freedom. Then in 1996, the Taliban dismantled what semblance of equality remained. The United States’ post-9/11 occupation in Afghanistan ousted the Taliban and has helped to revive and work toward improving women’s rights in Afghanistan for nearly two decades. Yet in February 2020, the U.S. endorsed a deal with Afghanistan to withdraw from the country called The U.S.-Taliban Peace Deal. Although the agreement heralds a much-overdue peace between these long-warring countries, the departure of American troops may facilitate the return of Taliban rule and the subsequent eradication of women’s rights in Afghanistan.

The Taliban’s Unchecked Oppression of Women

The first half of the 20th century saw great progress toward gender equality in Afghanistan. The era’s feminist vigor enfranchised women and integrated them with men. When the 1960s constitution cemented women’s rights in the fabric of the nation, true gender equality seemed imminent.

Hardship soon befell Afghanistan. The country’s status as a Soviet proxy state in the 1970s, and later, the jihadist activity by Mujahideen groups, eroded women’s rights. Additionally, these conflicts contributed to the political fragility that ultimately enabled the Taliban to take power in 1996. In pursuit of establishing an Islamic state, the Taliban implemented a doctored, repressive interpretation of sharia law.

This Islamist code drastically encroached on women’s rights in Afghanistan and effectively confined them to the domestic sphere. Depriving them of the right to vote, to receive an education or to seek employment, the Taliban subordinated women. Even minor defiance to these restrictions met with violent floggings, abuse and even stonings. Such atrocities extended beyond legal sanctions; women were frequently subject to sexual assault. The Taliban’s message was clear: womanhood itself was punishable.

US Occupation and Female Empowerment

After al-Qaeda-engineered the 9/11 attacks, the U.S. deployed thousands of troops to Afghanistan to depose the Taliban. This maneuver catalyzed nearly two decades of bloodshed. Though it has been hotly contested, America’s involvement has boosted women’s rights in Afghanistan. During the U.S. occupation, women have regained considerable economic opportunity and social freedoms.

Post-Taliban legislative actions have codified gender parity. The new constitution recognizes women’s legal equality with men. Rape, violence and physical abuse, previously an unrelenting threat to Afghan women, are now indictable offenses.

Women are also profiting from widening economic and educational opportunities and changes in societal attitudes. After decades of flatlining, the female labor force participation rate has increased by 7% since 2010, with women foraying into education, medicine, law enforcement and even public office at record levels. Women’s recent vocational advances have contributed to shifting ideologies across the country. In February 2020, NBC News reported that most Afghans have discarded misogynistic views in support of improving women’s rights in Afghanistan. Such a cultural transformation seems to herald women’s long-term empowerment and civic engagement.

Repercussions of the US-Taliban Peace Deal

Tragically, the U.S.-Taliban peace deal, signed Feb. 29, has the potential to reverse these last two decades of progress. With robust backing from both sides, the document provides for the departure of American troops from Afghanistan. This deal promises an end to the United States’ longest war. For its part, the Taliban has agreed to reject terrorism in pursuit of negotiating peace with the Afghan government.

The deal aspires to pacify a country too long battered by conflict, but it contains a grave flaw: it makes no provisions for women’s rights in Afghanistan. Despite its previous claims that harmony would “not be possible” without securing equality for women, the U.S. deferred the determination of gender parity to intra-Afghan discussions.

The Taliban has committed to granting women the rights that Islam guarantees. However, it claims to have upheld this pledge during its brutally repressive rule from 1996 to 2001. Given that the Taliban’s understanding of women’s rights has proven alarmingly narrow, its recent promise is hardly a consolation. Moreover, according to the U.S.’s most recent report, the territory that the Afghan government commanded in 2019 had dwindled to a record low. Without foreign aid or military backing, many fear the Taliban will easily overthrow the weakening Afghan government following the withdrawal of American troops.

Progress

In the past 20 years, Afghan women have shattered thousands of glass ceilings as they have built successful careers and enjoyed their hard-won freedoms. As the terms of the peace deal are actualized. However, the potential return of Taliban rule threatens to obliterate these advances. In order to avert a revival of misogyny and secure women’s rights in Afghanistan, Women for Afghan Women’s (WAW) Peacebuilding Program is preparing women to participate in future intra-Afghan talks. Along with stimulating meaningful political discourse among citizens, the program has coached 3,065 women in advocacy and negotiation. Politically and socially empowered, these outspoken women are joining the everyday conversations and monumental peace talks that will dictate their and their country’s future, and work toward improving women’s rights in Afghanistan.

Rosalind Coats
Photo: Pxfuel

Child soldiers in Afghanistan
Under the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC), using children under the age of 15 in combat is deemed a war crime because children can either end up dead or traumatized from their experience. Afghanistan is a party to the Rome Statute.

Furthermore, the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict was ratified by Afghanistan in 2003 and states that people under the age of 18 may not be recruited by armed groups under any circumstances. It established the need to take measures, such as prohibition and criminalization of this action, to prevent the use of child soldiers. A violation of this is considered a breach of international law.

 

Conflict Creates Instability

The United States invaded Afghanistan in 2001 in order to remove the Taliban from power. Although Kabul was reclaimed, the Taliban still controls some regions in Afghanistan and the war has continued. Additionally, the spread of the Islamic State’s presence in Afghanistan has aggravated the situation and increased the threat of terrorism. The decades of war and instability have created severe poverty and violence.

Child soldiers in Afghanistan are recruited on both sides of the conflict. Some Afghan children have even been recruited to fight in Syria. The Taliban has recruited child soldiers since the 1990s. Children participate in the war in many ways. They often are sent to combat, go on suicide missions, work in noncombat positions and serve as messengers or spies.

The Recruitment of Child Soldiers in Afghanistan

The Taliban has used Islamic religious schools to train children from a young age. They often begin studying religious subjects taught by Taliban teachers at age six and learn military skills around the age of 13. Usually, these kids are not taken by force. The Taliban schools are an attractive option for poor families since they provide food and clothing for the children.

Despite evidence of young boys participating in combat, the Taliban claims that to participate in military operations they have to prove “mental and physical maturity.” Although child soldiers in Afghanistan are mostly used by the Taliban, they are also used by the Afghan National Police as cooks and guards at checkpoints. Parents often do not oppose this since the boys could be the sole provider for their families.

Girls in the War

The number of girls considered to be child soldiers in Afghanistan is minimal. Danielle Bell, the head of the Human Rights Unit at the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, addressed this when she said, “In five years of monitoring and reporting, the U.N. has verified one case of child recruitment of a girl who was a trained suicide bomber.” Although they are not trained as soldiers, girls are often taken and forced into sex slavery for military groups.

The 2008 Child Soldiers Prevention Act prohibits the U.S. from giving military assistance to countries that use child soldiers. Jo Becker, the children’s rights advocacy director at Human Rights Watch, has criticized the U.S. for ignoring child soldiers in Afghanistan, saying, “The United States has paid hundreds of millions of dollars to support an Afghan militia that recruits and uses children to fight the Taliban.” Using children for military combat is both a violation of international law and a war crime and the United States government should take proper action against it.

– Luz Solano-Flórez
Photo: Flickr

Malala Visited Pakistan

The story of Malala Yousafzai’s survival is widely known around the globe. Recently, Malala visited Pakistan for the first time since 2012 when she was shot in the head by the Taliban.

Returning to Pakistan

In 2018, Malala returned to Pakistan and, under security protection, visited her home in the northwest town of Mingora. Back in 2012, Mingora was controlled by the Taliban under the rule of Mullah Fazlullah. At the age of 15, Malala was already vocal about female education, something that wasn’t supported under Taliban rule.

The Attack and Recovery

One day, Malala was traveling on a school bus with other students when it was stopped by men who were part of the Taliban. They boarded the bus, asking for Malala by name. When her friends turned to look at her, the trigger was pulled and she was shot in the head. 

Malala was rushed to the hospital, where her recovery was difficult. Within the first 72 hours of being shot, her brain swelled and she got an infection. She was transported to England to receive rehabilitative care at the Queen Elizabeth Medical Center, which specialized in emergency and rehabilitative care. Malala survived her attack after various surgeries but was left with some facial paralysis and deafness in her left ear.  

Continuing the Fight for Education

After recuperating, Malala continued her fight for the education of girls. She became the youngest Nobel laureate in 2014 when she received the Nobel Peace Prize for her “struggle against the suppression of children and young people and for the right of all children to education.” 

Malala has a foundation in her name, which is set up to support groups in Pakistan, Nigeria, Jordan, Syria and Kenya that support education. Apple has also partnered with Malala and the Malala Fund to help girls get an education.

According to 9 to 5 Mac, Apple will help the Malala Fund reach its goal of providing secondary education to more than 100,000 girls who would otherwise be unable to attend school.

Since the murder attempt in 2012, Malala has become the biggest advocate for girls education in Pakistan. She has become a beacon of hope. After Malala’s last visit to Pakistan, she hopes to return to live there after she finishes her studies in England.

– Valeria Flores

Photo: Flickr

Girls' Education in PakistanWith an estimated 22.6 million children (aged 5 to 16) out of school, Pakistan is facing an education crisis. This education concern is disproportionately affecting girls, who make up two-thirds of out-of-school children. With so many girls not able to achieve more than an elementary education in Pakistan, USAID has made it a priority to improve girls’ education in Pakistan.

The challenge of child education in Pakistan stems from a variety of human rights issues, from the Taliban preventing girls from going to school to the practice of child marriage. Although these threats continue to diminish, they are still affecting girls’ education in Pakistan.

Only 54 percent of girls are enrolled in primary school, and this number drops to just 30 percent for secondary school. From there, it is estimated that only one in 10 will complete their secondary schooling, being pulled out of school for financial reasons or to be forced into marriage. These practices are typically concentrated in rural areas, but affect girls throughout Pakistan.

With secondary education difficult to access for many girls because they are subject to arranged marriages or financial pressures, USAID has started a program to focus on girls’ access to secondary education. So far, USAID has created 33 schools covering sixth through eighth grade for girls between 11 and 19. These schools will be set up in rural villages where there are often no existing secondary schools for girls.

USAID is also working to improve other dimensions of Pakistan’s education crisis. USAID has done so by building and repairing more than 1,135 schools since 2011, and by educating more than 660,000 primary-level students through its reading program. USAID has also committed over $70 million to implement its Empower Adolescent Girls strategy in order to help educate more than 200,000 young girls in Pakistan.

In addition to improving students’ access to education, USAID is investing in teachers by repairing and building the 17 Faculty of Education centers in Pakistan as well as by providing more than 3,100 scholarships for aspiring teachers to earn their education. USAID has also trained more than 25,000 teachers and school administrators since 2014.

When a child is educated, their livelihoods improve and they are given the tools necessary to be lifted from poverty. While there are still far too many children out-of-school in Pakistan, USAID is working tirelessly in order to give every child access to a complete education.

Kelly Hayes

Photo: Flickr

 

Learn about the Protecting Girls’ Access to Education in Vulnerable Settings Act

 

10 Facts About the Afghanistan War
Following the September 11 attacks on New York and Washington D.C., President George W. Bush vowed to “win the war against terrorism.” This included the launch of a U.S.-led operative in Afghanistan, with the goal of toppling the terrorist groups Al-Qaeda and the Taliban. Today, going into its 16th year, the war is the longest conflict the U.S. has ever been involved in and continues to inhibit the lives of thousands of civilians. Here are 10 facts about the ongoing Afghanistan War.

  1. The current volatile situation in Afghanistan is the latest in a long history of conflicts. The U.S. invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 came after over 20 years of war in the country. A Soviet Invasion in 1979 prompted opposition from several militant groups, called the Mujahideen. The U.S., Pakistan, China, Iran and Saudi Arabia all provided funding and arms to the Soviet opposition. These contributions stemmed from a desire to resist the Soviet spread of communism but ended up contributing to budding extremism and violence in militant groups.
  2. By 1985, half of the Afghan population was already displaced due to war and conflict with the Soviets. By 1989, the last of the Soviet troops left Afghanistan after peace accords were reached between the USSR, Pakistan, the U.S. and Afghanistan. However, the existing government quickly toppled and the country dissolved into a brutal civil war, resulting in the Taliban seizing Kabul and quickly enforcing their influence across the country.
  3. President George W. Bush signed a joint resolution into law on September 18, 2001, authorizing the use of force against those responsible for the September 11 attacks. The resolution was later cited as justification by the Bush administration for decisions such as the invasion of Afghanistan, eavesdropping on American citizens with the absence of a court order, and the operation of a detention camp at Guantanamo Bay.
  4. The movement in Afghanistan began covertly by the CIA on September 26, 2001. Just 15 days after the attacks in the U.S., the CIA backed Northern Alliance Liaison Team – codenamed JAWBREAKER – and was on the ground and operating in Afghanistan, thus officially beginning the Afghanistan War.
  5. The British invaded Afghanistan alongside the U.S. In October of 2001, the U.S. and British militaries began a bombing campaign against the forces of the Taliban. Other countries, like Canada, France, Australia and Germany pledged future support at the time the bombing began.
  6. On November 14, 2001, after the fall of the Taliban in Kabul, the UN Security council passed Resolution 1378, which called for the participation of the United Nations in forming a transitional administration and facilitating the growth and spread of stability. In December, several leaders from major factions in Afghanistan traveled to a U.N. conference in Bonn, Germany. The factions signed and an interim government was decided upon.
  7. Since the beginning of the conflict, more than four dozen countries have contributed troops to the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan.
  8. In April 2002, President Bush promised: “By helping to build an Afghanistan that is free from evil and is a better place to live, we are working in the best traditions of George Marshall.” The statement was meant to invoke reconstructions similar to that of post-World War II. Soon afterward, the U.S. Congress appropriated over $38 billion in reconstruction assistance to Afghanistan from 2001 to 2009.
  9. In 2011, President Barack Obama pledged the gradual exit of American troops from Afghanistan. Unfortunately, due to continuously escalated situations with the Taliban, 8,400 U.S. troops will remain in Afghanistan through 2017. “We have to deal with the realities of the world,” says President Obama.
  10. As of 2015, the U.S. committed over $685 billion to funding the war in Afghanistan. Along with the Iraq War, the Afghanistan War has been the most expensive in U.S. history.

Stability in Afghanistan has made significant strides in the past several decades. The country’s GDP grew an average of 9.4% per year from 2003 to 2012. Life expectancy in the country has increased by nearly 20 years in the past decade. In 2002, less than a million children were enrolled in school, while now the number surpasses eight million. When the U.S. first invaded the country, only six percent of citizens had access to reliable electricity, while the number now reaches more than 28 percent.

Despite the country’s advances, basic amenities such as infrastructure and access to healthcare and education are still severely lacking. The length of the Afghanistan War and U.S. airstrikes, drone presence and ground troops have devastated the country’s ability to develop independently, and the Taliban continues to terrorize much of the country, causing thousands of Afghan refugees to continue to flee persecution.

Peyton Jacobsen

Photo: Flickr

Taliban-Supports-Women-Education
Historically, the Taliban’s regime in Afghanistan is notorious for its brutal oppression of women. Now, the Taliban has reportedly pledged its support for women’s rights.

The Taliban put forward this ‘softer stance’ on women’s issues at recent meetings with Afghan officials and activists in Qatar. Taliban representatives at the talks said that should they return to power, they would support not only women’s access to education, but also their right to work outside the home.

Many hope that these talks will lead to formal peace negotiations between the Taliban and the U.S.-backed Afghan government.

After coming to power in Afghanistan in the mid-1990s, the Taliban began a harsh crackdown on women’s rights. The group specifically targeted women’s education. Soon after taking over the Afghan capital, Kabul, in 1996, the Taliban closed the city’s women’s university and prohibited women from studying at Kabul University. In 1998, the Taliban banned all girls over the age of eight from attending school.

It is no secret that women’s education plays an integral part in a country’s economic and social development. It can both lift individual women and families out of poverty and increase an entire country’s GDP. Investing in girls’ education can also lower child and maternal mortality rates and reduce the likelihood of child marriages. By prohibiting women from attending schools and universities, the Taliban effectively ensured that Afghan women would lack the skills needed to participate in society and therefore sink deeper into poverty.

Though the Taliban fell from power in Afghanistan in 2001, its repressive views of women’s right to education are still widespread. In the years since, women have made only gradual progress toward reentering the educational system. World Bank reports show that as of 2014, 36 percent of Afghan girls attend school.

The three Afghan women who attended the talks in Qatar reported that they were pleased with the Taliban’s pledge to not roll back the progress Afghan women have made. Malalai Shinwari, a former Afghan member of parliament, said, “They said they won’t make the same mistakes that they made in the past. They said they would accept the rights we have today.”

However, many women’s activists remain skeptical about the Taliban’s statements. Shaharzad Akbar, a Kabul-based activist, revealed, “My worry is that the Taliban have a very different understanding of women’s right to education and political participation, and that it is based on their view that women are inherently inferior to men.”

Many delegates from the Qatar talks have expressed their surprise over the Taliban’s supposed willingness to compromise on both women’s rights and other political issues. However, whether the Taliban will follow through on its promises still remains to be seen.

Caitlin Harrison

Sources: Wall Street Journal, Christian Science Monitor, BBC, Global Partnership, U.S. Department of State
Photo: Blogging for Barakat

The city of Peshawar, Pakistan mourns deeply in the wake of the Pakistani Taliban’s deadliest attack to date. An estimated 132 children and nine staff members were killed in a devastating massacre targeting a school in the northwest region, where gunmen and suicide bombers inflicted damage so horrific that even the Afghani Taliban have condemned their actions. Most of the victims were children of military families enrolled at Peshawar’s Army Public School.

On Wednesday, the Pakistani Army pointedly allowed numerous television crews to enter the school grounds, where they were able to observe the crime scene for themselves and broadcast those observations back to their respective audiences. Images captured by international news teams revealed the devastating extent of the brutality, showing classroom floors coated with blood, walls covered in hundreds of bullet holes, and rooms blown apart by suicide bombers.

The international community has collectively vocalized utter contempt over the massacre, and Pakistan was immediately consumed by a state of national outrage. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif responded by declaring three full days of mourning and announcing an abrupt end to the moratorium on the death penalty for terrorist actions.

This decision by Sharif is quite significant given the country’s past responses to terrorist groups. Despite the fact that terrorism in Pakistan has taken more than 50,000 lives since 2001, there has long existed a puzzling lack of a national consensus to fight terrorism. In the immediate aftermath of Tuesday’s massacre, politicians refrained from publicly declaring whether they thought the Taliban had been behind the attack, even though the Tehreek-e-Taiban Pakistan, or TTP, had quickly claimed responsibility. The militants describe the Peshawar disaster as an act of revenge for an army attack that they claim killed approximately 1,000 of their own people.

The Taliban has a lengthy history of attacking schools. As an extremist group that first emerged in northern Pakistan in the early 1990s, the Taliban wields its own version of Islamic law as a major justification for and motivation behind its actions. The Pakistani Taliban adamantly opposes Western education for children, especially for girls. Education activists in Pakistan claim that this opposition is the Taliban’s way of trying to exert control over the population by keeping young people in the intellectual dark. An educated girl or boy represents a threat in the eyes of the Taliban, and the terrorist group actively works to eliminate these perceived threats through violence and oppression.

The Peshawar school massacre represents a departure from the Taliban’s usual school attacks. Militants in the past typically attacked schools while they were empty at night, specifically hoping to have the institutions shut down rather than directly harm students. The Taliban has also tried to threaten Pakistan’s education system by intimidating teachers and pressuring parents to quit sending their kids to class.

Some are beginning to question whether the Peshawar attack will force Pakistan to decidedly confront the terrorist group in a way it has generally refrained from doing in the past. Pakistan has long held an ambiguous view of Taliban militants, a phenomenon known as “good Taliban” and “bad Taliban” that for the past decade has baffled the Pakistani public and sent terribly mixed messages to the West. In the wake of the attack, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif announced “there will be no differentiation between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ Taliban,” while acting foreign minister Sartaj Aziz has described the tragedy as “our 9/11” and a “game changer.”

Shenel Ozisik

Sources: BBC 1, The Guardian 1, The Guardian 2, BBC 2
Photo: Flickr

Fighting for one’s own education in this world is an honorable feat that many aspire for but sadly do not accomplish. At the age of seventeen Malala Yousafzai did just that. She is known for being the youngest person to receive a Nobel Peace Prize for her activism for right for women to have access to education.

Malala was born in 1997 in Mingora, Pakistan, where she was not banned from the opportunity to have an education. Yousafzai attended a school that her father founded. Once the Taliban began attacking their rights to education, she knew she had to say something about it. She gave a speech in 2008 entitled “How dare the Taliban take away my right to basic education?” This was just the start of her growing platform of writing and speeches in activism towards girl’s education.

In 2009, Yousafzai made her first BBC blog post that exposed the daily hardships that girls faced daily in the Swat Valley of Pakistan. Her posts were under a pseudonym that eventually was discovered. At the time the Taliban in the area was banning all girls from attending school, this did not stop Yousafzai from her protests. Even after her name was discovered, Yousafzai continued to post blogs about the daily violence, intimidation, ridicule and suffering that the girls faced.

As her popularity grew, the Taliban began to view Yousafzai as a threat. The uprisings built up and on October 2012, as Yousafzai was boarding her school bus, she was shot three times. The injury was so serious she was sent to Birmingham, England for further care. Even after the attempted assassination, Yousafzai continued to be an activist for women’s rights, especially education.

The United Nations petition for all children to have access to education by 2015, was inspired by Yousafzai. She has been honored with countless awards, including the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize along with Kailash Satyarthi of India, who is fighting against child slavery around the world. Both individuals were awarded because of their efforts towards “their struggle against the suppression of children and young people and for the right of all children to education.”

Malala Yousafzai is a perfect example that if you have a strong enough belief in something, you do have the power to enact change. She stood up for not only herself, but girls all across the world who were told that they would not be given an education.

The power of one voice is truly strong enough to rattle the world.

Charisma Thapa

Sources: Optimist World, A&E, USA Today

Photo: Flickr

eradication_of_polio
Two years into a ban on polio vaccinations implemented by Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), the Pakistani Taliban branch, the number of cases of children with polio in Pakistan has risen dramatically. Compared to 58 cases in 2012 and 72 in 2013, there are 257 cases in 2014 so far.

The ban was put into place in northern Pakistan, or the tribal belt where the Taliban has control, in retaliation for U.S. drone strikes in the area. The group says it will lift the ban when the strikes stop.

Polio only remains endemic in three countries: Afghanistan, Pakistan and Nigeria. At the height of infection, polio affected over 350,000 people. In 2013, there were 416 polio cases reported worldwide. Projections say this number will rise in 2014, largely because of an extreme uptick in cases in Pakistan.

Pakistan has been very aggressive in the eradication of polio efforts, with health workers going as far as setting up roadblocks for vaccine stops and boarding public buses and trains to vaccinate any child that looks to be under five years of age. The country also runs regular vaccination campaigns in both its rural and urban regions, reaching hundreds of thousands of people in a matter of days.

Nonetheless, Pakistani health officials estimate that there are roughly 300,000 children living in the tribal belt along the Afghan-Pakistani border that are missing their vaccinations. This region is largely rural and in extreme poverty.

The TTP has stemmed the number of children receiving polio vaccinations by using propaganda and bans against vaccinations, as well as committing violence against health workers. Since 2012, 61 health workers and accompanying security personnel have been killed in Pakistan and countless attacks and instances of intimidation have occurred. TTP claims responsibility for most of these actions.

Much of the pushback against vaccinations stems from a mistrust of the West and the U.S. after a CIA operation was revealed that involved a Pakistani doctor named Shakil Afridi. Afridi pretended to conduct a vaccination campaign while looking for information on the whereabouts of Osama Bin Laden. This, coupled with dangerous and consistent drone strikes, gives the Taliban enough firepower to shoot down any vaccination campaigns.

Because of violence, poverty and insecurity along the Afghan-Pakistani border in the north, many people have moved farther into Pakistan, raising the risk of more cases of polio in unvaccinated children.

Caitlin Huber 

Sources: The News Tribe, Bloomberg, New York Times, NPR, CTC, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, WHO
Photo: Flickr

boko haram
Nigeria’s militant Islamic group, Boko Haram, has created havoc in Africa’s most populous country. The militia, whose name translates to “Western education is sin,” has kidnapped over 200 schoolgirls in the village of Chibok and has threatened to sell them as child brides. Their primary objective is to create an Islamic state that would forbid Muslims to abide by or be influenced by Western culture. Thus, schools have served as a common battlefield. Additionally, battles have occurred in churches, police stations and all those opposed to the ideas of the militants. Without a proper education, these girls will continue to suffer the consequences of extreme poverty and related health risks.

Similarly in Afghanistan, the Taliban imposed strict restrictions on women during their rule from the late 1990s to 2001. They banned women from studying in schools, working outside the homes and took away most of their behavioral and personal freedom due to an extreme interpretation of the Koran. Women were pressured into adhering to their traditional roles, being forced to stay at home to take care of the children and the house. The Taliban also was opposed to Western influence, and it banned music, movies, cosmetics and brightly colored clothing, creating laws to punish those who did not wear the proper clothing, such as the burqa, for women.

In both situations, women’s rights have been and still are on the road to being taken away. Boko Haram has been accused of having communications with and training from Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and Islamic Maghreb. This is also true for the Taliban, who have had immense support and imported fighters from Al-Qaeda. Both groups want to see a change in government and have Shari’a law implemented in their respective countries.

In a divided country of Christians and Muslims, Nigeria has faced many problems, despite the abundance of oil and natural resources that exist in the country. The militia mainly blames the modern and secular government for bad governance and underdevelopment. In Afghanistan, the Taliban rose after the invasion of the Soviet Union to bring back stability into the country and instill rule of law in place of corruption. The strict restrictions on women were an effect of Shari’a law.

Without education for women, the countries’ development will be hindered and the population’s health will dramatically decrease. Afghanistan already has one of the lowest Human Development Indexes in the world and suffers from a complete lack of healthcare providers and facilities. Unfortunately, both Afghanistan and Nigeria face severe challenges and a future that does not seem as bright as it could be.

Leeda Jewayni

Sources: CNN, CFR 1, CFR 2
Photo: Flickr