How Afghanistan’s Ban on Girls in Schools Affects Boys

Girls in Afghanistan are excluded from secondary schools. They are not allowed to attend any school that is co-educational or has male teachers. Unless they have a private tutor, the education that girls receive is limited to some basic lessons at home. The law banning girls from co-ed schooling was imposed by Taliban rule and it still remains in place today. This blog post discusses how this ban affects boys in Afghanistan and why it should be reconsidered.

When I did my previous blog post on this subject, I encountered some unexpected criticism. A few people thought I was being unfair to Afghan culture by calling for compulsory co-education in Afghanistan’s secondary schools. But if any of them had read the article carefully, they would have noticed that I did not propose making co-ed schooling compulsory immediately. I was asking for a pilot study. It would have been conducted in a province with the worst female-to-male ratio, or perhaps in all of Afghanistan, and it would have allowed people to judge whether co-ed schools were effective at improving girls’ access to education. This pilot study could have paved the way for later legislation making co-ed schooling compulsory.

The reason I wanted to include boys in this debate is that it might motivate those who now oppose universal co-education to change their minds. If they were aware of the benefits for boys and saw how important it was for them too, perhaps they would be less likely to object to female education. I also thought it would be helpful for Afghans to consider how things might look from the other side. After all, it’s easy to think of a situation as unfair when one is in a position of privilege and to fail to see the difficulties faced by those who are currently disadvantaged. Perhaps the only way for this debate to take place in Afghanistan would be if Afghan men could see it through the eyes of their daughters.



I’m used to hearing people say “but what about the boys?” every time someone tries to improve conditions for girls, even when that is not the best argument in that particular situation. For example, consider my previous blog post on children’s rights (here). People objected to me calling for universal education for boys and girls, even though that is what the article was about. The rationale given by those who did not want to see compulsory co-ed schooling in Afghanistan was also based on the concern for boys’ well-being. They said boys would suffer if they were expected to attend school with girls. But there are a few problems with this argument.

One is that the whole point of universal education is to ensure that no child is left out. If we already know there are problems with including boys in our educational system, continuing as if those problems do not exist would be an irresponsible decision. Another problem is that discussing those problems and having a debate on them will give us the opportunity to find solutions. We might find, for example, that there are ways of making co-ed schooling work even with all the difficulties involved. Or we might decide there is no way of getting rid of those obstacles and that they are not worth overcoming. Either outcome would be better than continuing as if nothing has changed just because some people feel uncomfortable with the debate.

This brings me back to my previous blog post. As expected, most of the arguments against co-ed schooling have focused on boys, not girls. The argument has been that it would be very difficult for Afghan boys to adjust to being educated alongside girls, so the experiment should not take place. People seem to agree