Taliban Ban Girls From Returning to Secondary School: “Like Burying Them Alive”

A young girl attends school in April 2008 in Nangarhar, Afghanistan. (U.N. Photo / Roger Lemoyne)

Students in secondary schools in Afghanistan are aged between 13 and 18. Under the former government, boys and girls were already segregated by gender, studying on separate campuses or during different times of the day. The announcement that only boys would be allowed to return to school has stirred up more fears among the Afghan people, who are worried this is just another measure to curb women’s rights, freedom and access to education and opportunities. 

“Banning girls from attending school is like burying them alive. Don’t let this nightmare turn into reality,” Aryan Aroon, an activist and writer from Afghanistan who left the country before the Taliban takeover, told the Washington Post.

Over the past two decades, progress and opportunities for women were some of the most prominent achievements of the Afghan people and access to education was at the top of that list. Under Taliban rule in 1996–2001, girls were banned from going to school. Those who did seek education, did so in underground schools, putting themselves and their teachers at risk.

Between 2002–2021, with help from the international community, schools reopened for boys and girls in Afghanistan, with nearly 40 percent of secondary students being girls. Now, a month after the Taliban takeover, women’s rights and freedom have already been curbed. Women public servants are told to stay home until further notice, nurseries in government buildings are closed, and those who protest are met with violence. Reportedly, house-to-house searches are still going on, searching for women leaders as well as those officials and activists who opposed the Taliban.

Under the government of the past 20 years, Afghan women were guaranteed equal rights under the Constitution of Afghanistan, and although not always perfect in practice, they had access to justice, education, health services and employment opportunities. Women made up 25 percent of the parliament (tied with the U.S. for women’s representation) and served as department heads (secretaries), deputies, advisors and in many other roles. Those guarantees have been invalidated, as the Taliban announced women can no longer serve in high-ranking jobs.

Soon after the collapse of the previous government, private universities reopened with a Taliban order to segregate classes by gender, forcing male and female students to enter from different entrances and prohibiting any interaction between male and female students. Public universities remain shut and it is likely women will not be allowed to return there either, or only under restrictions such as uniforms that conforms with the Taliban’s view of covering (hijab) for women.

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Makhfi Azizi is the director of the Campaign for Afghan Women and Girls at the Feminist Majority Foundation. She has been working with the foundation in this capacity for two years and works on issues of human rights, peace and security. Makhfi is dedicated to women’s equality, peace and democracy.