The “New Normal” for Afghan Girls

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Chloe Els (she/her), Columnist

Picture this: You’re walking in front of a crowd. You can see your parents in it; their eyes are wide with anticipation. You’re wearing dress shoes and a gown, and you’re nervous, too. The ceremony around you feels so formal, so grown-up, even though you’re only eighteen as you step into a new phase of your life. Towards adulthood, financial security, and living without your parents. 

 

Now, I said there were two endings to this story. The first is that you cross the stage and are handed your high school diploma. The gown is a graduation gown, and the new phase of your life is college or a full-time job. The second is that you reach the end of the aisle and are married. The gown is a wedding gown, and the new phase of your life involves having children and being a dutiful wife to a man much older than you. Girls in Afghanistan will only know the second ending. Many of them before they are even eighteen.

 

On August 15, 2021, the Taliban took over Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan, and the whole world watched with bated breath. The Americans were evacuated, and the chaos was magnetic. Now, less than three months later, the frenzied chaos has given way to a “new normal,” a term the whole world seems to know. 

 

But what does the “new normal” look like in Afghanistan? For half of the population, life has changed completely. Due to the Taliban’s extremist interpretation of Sharia laws, Afghan girls are no longer allowed to attend school. This happened once before from 1996 to 2001 when the Taliban previously controlled Afghanistan. Girls were prohibited from attending school, and literacy rates among them were extremely low. In the past 20 years, more and more girls regularly attended school as they embraced their access to education. As they grew accustomed to school, many girls planned on attending college to become doctors or lawyers. The future never seemed brighter. 

 

Until August, when it all came to a crashing halt. On March 12, 2020, American students faced a similar issue when in-person school was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, in America, when schools were shut down, we turned to Webex; in Afghanistan, they’ll turn to weddings. According to Foreign Policy Magazine, the Taliban’s extremist interpretation of Islam involves equating women to the term kaniz, which means commodity. Because of this, women are viewed as spoils of war. Objects to be passed out among Taliban soldiers to serve as wives and sex slaves. And The National News reports that the Taliban wants to marry off girls as young as twelve and thirteen.

 

That’s why they have forbidden girls from going to school. For twenty years, from 2001 to 2021, girls attended school. They learned to read, write, and do math. Many of them planned on having careers when they grew up. That was the big word: careers. School provided Afghan girls with a chance at financial stability and independence because girls who went to school could get jobs.

 

Now, after twenty years of studying and planning for the future, Afghan girls face the crushing “new normal”. Without school, they can no longer pursue careers, and without careers, they can no longer rely on themselves to provide financial stability. 

 

This is when the second ending occurs. Without access to education, young girls in Afghanistan are going to be married off to older men in the hopes of attaining some sense of financial stability they can no longer achieve on their own. Child brides will become more common, and Afghan women will become increasingly dependent on Afghan men.

 

On March 12, 2020, our lives were upended as school shut down. We lost homecoming and prom, and we spent our “new normal” on Webex calls or wearing masks in classrooms. But girls in Afghanistan are watching their futures disappear entirely. So as we return to school, we must not forget the girls in Afghanistan who can’t.

 

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