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The First Afghan Students to Study Gender and Women’s Studies

On Sunday, November 4th, 22 graduates of Kabul University received degrees in gender and women’s studies for the first time. Seven of those graduates were men. Kabul University, which resides in Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan, is the first higher educational institute in the country to offer a degree in women’s issues.

The two-year master’s program focuses on feminist theories, media, civil society, and conflict resolution, among other women-oriented topics. It is funded by South Korea and run by the UNDP.

The institution’s installment of this program testifies to a great change in Afghanistan since the Taliban’s repressive five-year regime from 1996 to 2001.

Afghanistan under the Taliban has one of the worst human rights records in the world. When the regime came to power in 1996, they did not install any social services or other basic state functions; prohibitions were enforced on any behavior deemed “un-Islamic.”

Women were made to cover themselves head-to-toe, and then, were imprisoned in their homes and denied access to basic healthcare and education. Male relatives escorted them everywhere they went, and if a woman went out alone, she was shot.

The regime was internationally isolated, and two UN Security Council resolutions were passed in 1998, urging the Taliban to end their oppressive treatment of women.

In 2001, the US led an invasion that toppled the regime protecting al-Qaeda, or the central leadership of the Taliban, including Osama bin Laden. Since then, billions of dollars have been spent to secure a peaceful future for the country’s citizens.

Prior to the rise of the Taliban, women in Afghanistan had more rights than what is probably assumed. In the 1920s, women were allowed to vote, and in the 1960s, the constitution provided equality for women. In the early 1990s, 70 percent of school teachers, 50 percent of government workers, and 40 percent of doctors in Kabul were women.

The Taliban’s imposition of severe restrictions completely destroyed the country’s progress in achieving gender equality. However, the state of the country has improved greatly since then, and the educational system is Afghanistan’s biggest success story by far.

In 2001, no girls attended formal school, and only one million boys were enrolled, but by 2012, 7.8 million pupils attended school, out of which 2.9 million were girls. Now, these girls and boys have the opportunity to study their own rights if they attend higher education.

“In a short period of time, we cannot bring about any dramatic change, but with our higher education, we can help change our society and serve our people, particularly our women,” said Sajia Sediqqi, one of the graduates.

“This is the beginning of change,” said Mujtaba Arefi, another graduate. “With these programs, we can understand the women’s place and status in our society. There is the possibility that we will reach a level of gender equality like the West.”

With majors like women’s studies, Afghanistan is taking a great step forward in gender equality. Hopefully, this major will enable a new generation of Afghan leaders, bringing women’s rights to the forefront of social change.

Featured Image by Jessie Jacobson on Flickr

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