Taliban Reverses Pledge and Keeps Girls’ Schools Closed: ‘Why Are They Playing With Our Future?’

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Students and a teacher at the Female Experimental High School in Herat. (World Bank Photo Collection / Flickr)

Despite much anticipation, the Taliban regime announced last week that girls’ schools from grades 7-12 would remain closed until they have a plan. The Taliban statement read that “we inform all girls’ high schools and those schools with female students above class six that they are off until the next order.”

Devastated teachers and students around the country who did not know about the announcement until they arrived at their schools were forced to return home. In speaking with the BBC, one in Kabul student said, “I feel really hopeless for my future. I don’t see a bright future for myself. All we want is to go to school.”

Another tearful student told Tolonews, “Why are they playing with our future? It is our right; we are humans, we are from this country. All we want is to continue with our education. Is it a sin to be a girl, is it a sin to seek education?”

The sudden reversal in decision came after last week’s announcement by the Taliban’s Ministry of Education that all schools, including girls’ high schools, would reopen on Wednesday, March 23 (which marks the beginning of the school year in Afghanistan).

It reveals how fundamental to the identity of their movement misogyny is and this vision of a world in which girls and women have no place outside the home.

The decision to keep girls’ schools closed did not apply to schools nationwide. Some schools in other parts of Afghanistan, including Herat and Ghor, were open on March 23 but were ordered to close starting the following day. In the majority of the country, girls were told to return home.

Global mediaAfghan girls and women, activists, the United Nations office in Kabul and allies have condemned the closure.

“Education is part of Afghan culture,” said Barak Pashtana, a girls’ education activist, in an interview with the BBC. “Every house has a bookstore in its vicinity. Afghan culture doesn’t stop girls from education. … Rural Afghanistan didn’t have access to education because of lack of resources, and that was because of the Taliban.”

In another interview of the BBC, Heather Barr of the Human Rights Watch said that “it illustrates how unprepared they are to run a country and provide services … but it also reveals how fundamental to the identity of their movement misogyny is and this vision of a world in which girls and women have no place outside the home.”

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Afghan school children attend class in June 8, 2009, in Kabul, Afghanistan. (U.N. Photo / Fardin Waezi)

The U.N. said that it “deplores today’s reported announcement by the Taliban that they are further extending their indefinite ban on female students above the 6th grade being permitted to return to school.”

Videos circulating on social media also show teachers and students crying and some students protesting in front of a girl’s high school in Kabul chanting, “education is our right.”

In another tweet, Save the Children said they were heartbroken for the adolescent girls across Afghanistan who were denied their right to education. “The continued ban on girls’ secondary education is appalling. We urge the authorities to reverse this decision and ensure schools for girls open immediately to guarantee the right to education for all.”

Since the Taliban’s takeover of power in Afghanistan, some international organizations and countries have engaged more closely with the Taliban. In some cases, even promising recognition. However, one of the conditions for the recognition has been women and girls’ access to education. As Heather Barr said in her interview with the BBC, the Taliban’s decision to reverse their pledge has “made a mockery not only of Afghan girls but of the entire international community.”

Yalda Hakim working for the BBC, said, “183 days they had time to resolve the school uniform issue, so why did they wait for girls to turn up at their schools with their uniforms, with their box, waiting to be educated again, only to find that they have been denied education.”

The last time the Taliban ruled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001, they banned women and girls from education and employment. Many Afghan women and activists believe that the Taliban ideology on women and girls’ rights has not evolved since they were last in power. Since August 15 of 2021, women have been told to stay home, stripping them of their fundamental human rights once again.

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