A Letter to the World About the Women of Afghanistan, From an American Girl

Angelina Astic, Contents/Copy Editor

The odds have always been stacked against women. Since the beginning of time, despite our intellect, unwavering strength, innate aptness to support others and ability to carry and bring life into the world, many women remain shackled by the latter. Patriarchal principles and structures have existed for centuries, especially in places like Afghanistan. For Afghan women who have worked tirelessly for rights essential to a full life, the Taliban’s newfound reign has wreaked havoc over their lives and futures. 

Known today as the “U.S. War on Terror,” President George W. Bush’s administration ordered the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan to target Al Qaeda and its leader, Osama bin Laden, and conquer the foreign terror threats that thrived abroad. While many faced a life of hardship and loss due to the war, Afghan women and girls began to discover and claim their power. 

Starting in 2002, areas controlled by the Afghan government saw a rise in the number of Afghan girls and women who attended school and were active participants in government-related issues, with some even assuming political positions. Non-governmental organizations cultivated community education opportunities for students, which —while allowed — had not been properly supported by the state education system, therefore limiting many Afghans’ access to these programs. 

As of the present day, the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan established under the new Taliban regime has implemented policies which align with the fundamentalist Islamic principles that the Taliban strictly adheres to. Replacing the Women’s Affairs Ministry with the Ministry for the Prevention of Vice and Promotion of Virtue, a group feared during the 1990s for its beatings and brutal punishments of women who refused to wear hijabs or traveled without male chaperones, the Taliban has begun to revert back to its tradition of harsh enforcements for those who refuse to comply. 

Under the Taliban’s new orders, Afghanistan’s universities must have gender segregated campuses. If unable, the university must have alternate classes for women and men or have clear divisions and seating within classrooms according to gender. In addition, women must wear a hijab to school; otherwise, they cannot attend classes. 

One of the quintessential elements of a successful society is an equitable and solid education system that serves all youth. On Sept. 17, the Taliban’s education minister, Abdul Baqui Haqqani, also announced the reopening of secondary schools for boys; however, the caveat is that girls cannot come back into the classroom. By doing so, the Taliban has prevented young girls from receiving a much deserved and needed education. Without a well-rounded educational foundation, it is very unlikely that some, if any, Afghan girls will attend university in the future. This conclusion draws the curtain on the Taliban’s carefully packaged plan to prevent women from receiving an education, without explicitly doing so.  

Regardless, it is important to remember that education does not equal intellect. However, providing women access to an education and equal opportunity ensures that they can live a life of unbridled possibilities. Despite this, generations of intelligent women, ones who had the potential to share their gifts and intellect with the world, have lived restricted lives due to the patriarchal societies that govern them. 

In the U.S. and across the world, many women and girls enter schoolhouses, the work place, houses of worship and various other entities valued for much more than their reproductive capabilities. Viewed as capable, competent and independent thinkers, women, while not always as respected or valued as their male counterparts, are acknowledged and appreciated. 

However, in places where patriarchal societies thrive, women are diminished to a status as, simply put, “baby-making machines.” Due to the widespread belief in many of these cultures that a woman’s main role is to carry, birth and rear children, there remains little conversation about any other topic. As a result, on top of limited educational opportunities, many women have minimal knowledge of health care and measures which ensure a decent quality of health. 

Due to the inability of male doctors to properly examine women under the Taliban’s rule, many are at risk, especially those who are expecting a child and require a visit with the gynecologist. According to 2009-2017 U.S. State Department reports, Afghanistan has the world’s second highest rate of maternal mortality during childbirth. In this same report, the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund found that 165 of every 1000 children die prior to their first birthday.  

However, the damage to society does not stop there. True to basic economic principles, when a country’s possible workforce is not used to its full potential, the nation fails to succeed. Restricting women, confining them to a life in the shadows secluded from the rest of the world, not only hurts them, but it proves detrimental to society as a whole. Simply put, suppressing women equates to suppressing the world. 

Denying women the right to receive an education or the resources to become successful limits Afghanistan’s potential economic capabilities, or any hope for growth in terms of GDP. A paper published by United Nations Women found that increasing the employment rate of women in member countries of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development to match that of Sweden could potentially raise GDP to over $6 trillion. 

Statistics show that these benefits felt on a nationwide scale can also be seen in the very pockets of the women fueling them. According to a 2014 report by the Global Partnership for Education and the World Bank, one year of secondary education for girls leads to a potential 25% increase in wages she may earn. At the same time, a 1% increase in education for girls elevates the GDP of a nation 0.3% and annual GDP growth by 0.2%. 

Currently, Afghanistan remains in the midst of an economic crisis. Despite its massive mineral and fuel capabilities, Afghanistan continues to hold a spot as one of the most underdeveloped countries. In taking a closer look, the GDP per capita of Afghanistan pales in comparison to other countries. The 2020 GDP per capita of the U.S. sat at $63,543.578. Afghanistan’s 2020 GDP per capita sat at $508.808

True to the saying, the numbers simply do not lie. Repercussions from a 20-year-long war remain undeniable, of course. At this time, as the Taliban continues to develop its new government, many of its leaders plead with foreign leaders and entities for more international aid. While this aid remains necessary and important, the country cannot see true recovery unless women are given both a chance and a seat at the table. 

With all these factors and an immeasurable amount of turmoil combined, it comes as no shock that Afghanistan’s future looks more uncertain now than ever before. During the Victorian era, amongst high child mortality rates primarily due to impoverishment, people coined the term “failure to thrive.” Despite its antiquated feel, there is no better term to describe the state of Afghanistan and its people. Unless there is change, there will continue to be a massive state of a “failure to thrive.” 

As I sit here typing this piece, I am cognizant of the fact that I am a young woman of privilege. My ability to speak freely, to shine a light on the injustices that the women of Afghanistan and women across the world face, is something I can never take for granted. Sitting in a classroom alongside my male and female peers, teachers encourage me to speak up, share my opinions and seek the truth, no matter how difficult it may seem. 

Here I am: seeking the truth and sharing it with the world. The truth is that women across the world and within Afghanistan will continue to fail to thrive if we turn a blind eye. Each and every little girl, teenager and woman, deserves the chance at a life filled with promise and potential. Each of them deserves to write their own stories. Each of them deserves to be recognized, uplifted and freed from the constraints of cruelty. They are depending on us to ensure just that for them.