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  • Human Rights Research Center

“Education is the right of all citizens of Afghanistan”: The Reconstruction Period in Afghanistan (2001-2021) and the Beginning of the Second Taliban Takeover

June 6, 2024

Note: This is the fourth article in a series that covers girls’ education and gender apartheid in Afghanistan. You can read the first, second, and third articles here.

The Taliban lost its tenacious grip on Afghanistan in late 2001 due to Western bombing and fighting by the United States. The United Nations Security Council, a subgroup of the UN that handles military authorization for international conflict, passed Resolution 1378, which began the process of transitioning Afghanistan’s government back into a democracy. The international community was involved in peace talks, and the U.S.-Afghanistan war lasted for 20 years, from 2001 to 2021. The U.S. assassinated Osama bin Laden, one of Al-Qaeda’s leaders who played a key role in 9/11, in 2011, which further reduced Taliban control and influence.

Girls’ education began to flourish between the fall of the Taliban and 2021. 40% of Afghan girls attended secondary school in 2018 versus only 6% in 2003. In 2020, overall education enrollment had improved significantly, with 10 million children receiving an education versus only 1 million in 2001. Approximately 40% of these 10 million children were girls. The creation of more schools and the hiring of more teachers also made this increase possible. In 2020, there were 429,790 students enrolled in universities, both public and private, with 71.01% being men and 28.99% being women. However, there was still much progress to be made given that “before the Taliban seized control of the country, Afghanistan had one of the biggest gender gaps in education levels in the world.” The three main barriers to education access are culture, resources, and security. Specific factors that can prevent universal education for girls are “discriminatory attitudes toward girls both in the law and at the community level; early age at marriage and early childbearing; insecurity and violence from the ongoing conflict and general lawlessness, including attacks on educational institutions; a lack of schools in many areas; costs associated with education; and a lack of female teachers,” all of which are at play in Afghanistan.

Once the U.S. partially withdrew from Afghanistan in 2020, the on-the-ground conditions were ripe for a coup. The Taliban 2.0 takeover officially began on August 15th, 2021, while American troops were being entirely withdrawn, and the Taliban-dubbed Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan was rebirthed. Early that morning in the capital, Kabul, shop owners removed their posters and advertisements of women, an action taken to protect themselves and their businesses, ingrained in their “muscle memory” from two decades before. Afghan civilians prepared themselves for the erasure of women yet again. Girls’ education dwindled once more, with approximately 80% of girls and women of school age, or 2.5 million, currently barred from school. 30% of girls have never been enrolled in primary school in Afghanistan.

When university students arrived on campus on December 20th, 2022, ready for class, “male students were ushered inside while women were told, at gunpoint, that they could no longer attend.” This exclusionary policy has had devastating effects on women who have fought for their right to education and grown up under the Taliban’s oppressive regime. Students protested this ban, but their peaceful pleas were met with state violence, including “water cannons, beatings and arrests” by the Taliban police force. Moreover, “places of higher education are now militarised: Armed Taliban officers constantly check classes, educational materials, girls and women’s compliance with the dress code.” No person should have to fear for their safety in schools. In the U.S., students fear school shootings; in Afghanistan, the women and girls who can attend school are under constant surveillance by the Taliban, with threats of violence always looming.

The Afghan Constitution, penned in 2004, commits to education. Articles 43 and 44 declare that: “Education is the right of all citizens of Afghanistan, which shall be offered up to the B.A. level in the state educational institutes free of charge by the state… The state shall devise and implement effective programs to create and foster balanced education for women.” It also implemented a quota system in Parliament to ensure women are represented in government. Under international law, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), guarantees the right to an education in Article 26, stating:

“Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages. Elementary education shall be compulsory. Technical and professional education shall be made generally available and higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit”.

Additionally, Afghanistan is a signatory party to the Convention on the Elimination of Violence Against Women (CEDAW). Therefore, the Taliban is clearly continuing to violate both domestic and international law by denying girls the right to progress past primary school. It is a terrifying reality that the current generation of girls may never go further than sixth grade or step foot in a university building in their lifetimes if the Taliban remains in power.



  • Convention on the Elimination of Violence Against Women (CEDAW)- an international treaty designed to further gender equality and end gender-based violence.

  • Gender Apartheid- the segregation of the genders, male and female, instituted in public life through laws. 

  • The Taliban- a fundamentalist militia organization that rules parts of Afghanistan and Pakistan, enforcing extremist policies that relegate women and girls to the home.

  • Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR)- a 1948 international legal document that outlines the basic human rights every person is entitled to, including the universal right to education.

  • United Nations Security Council- a council of the UN that handles military authorization for dealing with international conflict.


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