Afghanistan’s Girls Under Attack Again for Seeking Education

By Emily Thompson

Nearly 80 female students in grades 1-6 were poisoned in Afghanistan’s Sangcharak district of Sar-e-Pul province over Saturday and Sunday. Sixty students were poisoned in Naswan-e-Kabod Aab School and 17 were poisoned in Naswan-e-Faizabad School, according to reports. The ruling Taliban terror organization has banned education for girls beyond the sixth grade, including university, and women are barred from most jobs and public spaces.

Although this is the first known such case since the Taliban came to power in August 2021, it is not the first time that reports of poisonings of schoolchildren has taken place in Afghanistan. A similar incident happened in 2015 as well, when 600 school girls were poisoned in Herat province.

RAWA, the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan is one organization that has fought for the rights of women in Afghanistan since the 1970s. Its aim is to remove the restrictions placed on women and to fight for their rights as equal citizens. It also aims to raise more awareness internationally of the plight of Afghanistan’s women and girls in an effort to effect change in fora such as the United Nations.

Several other organizations are actively involved as well. Amnesty International and the International Commission of Jurists recently issued a report demanding that the Taliban’s severe restrictions and unlawful crackdown on women’s and girls’ rights should be investigated as possible crimes under international law, including the crime against humanity of gender persecution. The organizations are also calling on other states to exercise universal jurisdiction or other lawful means to bring to justice Taliban members suspected of responsibility for crimes under international law.

The report, ‘The Taliban’s war on women: The crime against humanity of gender persecution in Afghanistan’, presents a detailed legal analysis of how the Taliban’s draconian restrictions on the rights of Afghanistan’s women and girls, together with the use of imprisonment, enforced disappearance, torture and other ill-treatment, could amount to the crime against humanity of gender persecution under Article 7(1)(h) of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC).

According to the report,

After the Taliban seized control of Kabul in August 2021, the human rights situation of women and girls in Afghanistan deteriorated severely, despite the Taliban’s initial promise to respect women’s and girls’ rights. The Taliban have been increasingly introducing new restrictions with the apparent aim of completely erasing women’s and girls’ presence from public arenas.

The report also notes that Taliban policies “have been further oppressing women and girls in almost all aspects of their lives. The widespread and systematic subjugation of girls and women in Afghanistan is a flagrant violation of their human rights and fundamental freedoms.”

“The Taliban’s campaign of gender persecution is of such magnitude, gravity and systematic nature, that cumulatively the acts and policies form a system of repression which aims to subjugate and marginalize women and girls across the country. Our report indicates that this meets all the five criteria to qualify as a crime against humanity of gender persecution,” said Santiago A. Canton, Secretary General of the International Commission of Jurists.

Agnès Callamard, Secretary General at Amnesty International, said,

Since their take over, the Taliban has imposed draconian restrictions on the rights of Afghanistan’s women and girls. Let there be no doubt: this is a war against women – banned from public life; prevented from accessing education; prohibited from working; barred from moving freely; imprisoned, disappeared and tortured including for speaking against these policies and resisting the repression. These are international crimes. They are organized, widespread, systematic.

The report covers the period from August 2021 to January 2023 and bases its analysis on a growing body of evidence collected by credible sources, including Amnesty International’s 2022 report Death in Slow Motion, civil society organizations and UN authorities. It also provides a legal assessment of why women and girls fleeing persecution in Afghanistan should be presumptively considered refugees in need of international protection. It complements the work of UN experts and women’s rights groups to lay the foundation for the robust response needed to ensure justice, accountability and reparation for the crimes against humanity of gender persecution.

Fran Equiza, the representative of the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) in Afghanistan, told journalists last week that “where education used to be a symbol of hope, children’s right to learn is under attack. Girls across Afghanistan have been denied their right to learn for over three years now – first, due to COVID-19 and then, since September 2021, because of the ban on attending secondary school. I don’t need to tell you of the impact of these absences on their mental health,” he said.

The Afghan poisonings are not new. Thousands of girls in neighboring Iran have also been poisoned in several attacks over the last few months. A march report by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) said UN experts “expressed outrage at the deliberate poisoning of more than 1200 schoolgirls in Iran’s major cities and the State’s failure to protect them, prevent further attacks and conduct swift investigations.”

According to the experts,

The first reported poisoning of schoolgirls in Iran occurred on 30 November 2022, in the city of Qom. Since then, targeted chemical attacks against girls’ schools have been reported in 91 schools located in 20 provinces across Iran.

Like the girls in Afghanistan, Iranians are also suffering severe persecution by the ruling regime and will continue to suffer in the foreseeable future.

The women of Afghanistan and Iran will continue to suffer as long as they are ruled by extremist governments. As RAWA states,

Whenever fundamentalists exist as a military and political force in our injured land, the problem of Afghanistan will not be solved. Today RAWA’s mission for women’s rights is far from over and we have to work hard for establishment of an independent, free, democratic and secular Afghanistan. We need the solidarity and support of all people around the world.

Image: Pixabay

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