This week, as we observe Children’s Mental Health Week, it’s crucial to shed light on an ongoing crisis that continues to undermine the mental well-being of Afghan children, particularly girls. The Taliban’s stringent policies, including the prohibition of education for girls beyond the sixth grade, are not just a denial of fundamental rights but also a significant source of psychological distress and mental health issues among Afghan children.
In light of the current educational and societal climate in Afghanistan, the statistics offer a stark insight into the challenges faced by Afghan girls and women following the Taliban’s educational restrictions. Since the Taliban’s edict in September 2021, the education of girls over the age of 12 has been indefinitely halted, resulting in 1.1 million girls and young women being deprived of access to formal education. This ban has escalated to the point where currently, an estimated 80% of school-aged Afghan girls and young women, amounting to 2.5 million individuals, are out of school. Alarmingly, nearly 30% of Afghan girls have never had the opportunity to enter primary education. The situation worsened with the suspension of university education for women in December 2022, affecting over 100,000 female students across both government and private higher education institutions. Source: Unesco
The repercussions of these bans are not confined to education alone but extend into the broader societal and economic realms. The prohibition on women’s education is exacerbating a crisis for all Afghans, leading to job losses among tens of thousands of teachers and support staff, and impacting private institutions and businesses financially dependent on girls’ education. Afghanistan’s economy, already in a fragile state, is further strained as women are excluded from the job market, potentially costing the country billions of dollars in GDP. Moreover, the prioritization of Islamic knowledge over basic literacy and numeracy is paving the way for a generation devoid of contemporary or secular education, which is crucial for economic advancement. Source: CTV News
Before these suspensions, Afghanistan had seen a significant increase in the enrolment of girls and women in education. Between 2001 and 2018, the number of girls in primary school surged from almost zero to 2.5 million, and by August 2021, girls constituted 40% of primary education students. The presence of women in Afghan higher education had increased almost twentyfold, from 5,000 in 2001 to over 100,000 in 2021, with literacy rates for women doubling during this period. Source: Unesco
The return of the Taliban to power in Afghanistan has seen the reinstatement of severe restrictions on women’s and girls’ rights, including access to education. According to a report by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, the Taliban has effectively barred girls from attending school beyond the sixth grade. This policy not only curtails their right to education but also isolates them from their peers and the broader social environment, which is essential for their cognitive and emotional development.
The impact of these restrictions extends beyond the realm of education. The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) has emphasized that quality education must be equally accessible to all, as it is a cornerstone of societal advancement and individual well-being. The denial of education to Afghan girls not only breaches their human rights but also contributes to a broader climate of gender discrimination and social injustice. Such an environment fosters feelings of worthlessness, anxiety, and depression among girls, who are forced to accept a future devoid of the opportunities that education provides.
These statistics highlight the dire consequences of the Taliban’s educational restrictions on Afghan women and girls, underscoring the urgency of international support and intervention to restore their right to education and contribute to Afghanistan’s development.
Moreover, the psychological impact on children witnessing the suppression of their mothers, sisters, and friends cannot be understated. The collective trauma experienced by a generation growing up under such oppression is likely to have long-lasting effects on their mental health. The sense of powerlessness and the internalization of gender-based discrimination can contribute to a range of mental health issues, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety, and depression.
During Children’s Mental Health Week, it’s essential to recognize the unique challenges faced by Afghan children, especially girls, and advocate for their rights to education and mental health support. Education is not just about acquiring knowledge; it’s about building confidence, fostering resilience, and nurturing the social skills necessary for a healthy mental state. Denying Afghan girls access to education not only hampers their personal development but also perpetuates a cycle of mental health issues that could hinder the progress of an entire society.
Sahar Education, in its commitment to the empowerment of Afghan girls and women, has developed a comprehensive suite of programs that go beyond traditional education. Understanding the multifaceted challenges faced by women and girls in Afghanistan, Sahar’s programs are designed to provide them with the tools and knowledge necessary for personal empowerment, mental well-being, and societal change. Our curricula encompass a wide range of topics critical to women’s empowerment, including mental health awareness, coping skills, leadership development, conflict resolution, child marriage prevention, and women’s health and reproduction. These subjects, often considered taboo and not covered in the Afghan school system, are vital for the holistic development of the girls and women we serve.
The workshops and courses offered by Sahar Education serve as a safe space for participants to discuss and learn about sensitive topics openly. Feedback from the girls involved in our programs consistently highlights the immense value they find in these workshops. By addressing issues directly affecting them and their communities, Sahar helps to foster a supportive environment where girls can build confidence, resilience, and a sense of agency. The discussions on difficult subjects not only equip them with critical life skills but also strengthen the communities within the Sahar courses. This approach ensures that the benefits of our programs extend beyond the individual participants, contributing to the broader goal of societal transformation and gender equality in Afghanistan.
This Children’s Mental Health Week, let us renew our commitment to fighting for the rights and well-being of children worldwide, starting with the urgent need to support Afghan girls’ right to education. Through education and empowerment, we can combat the mental health crisis and pave the way for a brighter, more equitable future for all.
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