Afghan boys skip school to show solidarity with girls

This protest comes after boys were allowed by the Taliban to attend school, but remained silent on allowing girls inside the classroom

Maroosha Muzaffar
Monday 20 September 2021 15:31

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Many boys in Kabul are skipping school in solidarity with their female schoolmates, days after the Taliban reopened school for boys, but kept silent on allowing girls inside classrooms.

The new Taliban-run education ministry, in a statement on Friday, ordered officials to oversee the reopening of “madrasas, private and public schools and other academic institutions of the country” starting from Saturday for middle and high school boys.

The statement, however, did not mention girls. “All male students and male teachers must be present at their schools,” it said.

While girl children up to the age of 12 have been allowed into classrooms, the Taliban’s reasoning behind remaining silent about those above this age group is because this is the time girls start menstruating as a part of their formative teenage years, according to experts.

Rohullah, an 18-year-old student of Wahday boys’ school was quoted by the Wall Street Journal as saying: “I didn’t go to school today to show my disagreement with the Taliban, and to protest them forbidding girls going to school.”

“Women make up half the society. This shows that the Taliban haven’t changed. I will not show up at school until girls’ schools are open too,” he added.

The Taliban’s leaders have promised to support women’s education and employment, but there have been reports of women being sent back home from work.

Just last month, Taliban leaders called men back into government offices, but said security concerns made it unsafe for women.

Boys and male colleagues should boycott school, wrote Qudsia Qanbary, a high-school Afghan teacher, in a Facebook post. “If I was a boy, I would not go to school unless my sister can also go to school,” she said in the post.

“Banning girls from attending school is like burying them alive,” Aryan Aroon, an activist and writer from Afghanistan who left the country before the Taliban took over, told The Washington Post.

“Don’t let this nightmare turn into reality,” he said.

“The education of girls is fixing a generation. The education of boys may affect a family, but the education of girls affects society,” a school principal in Kabul, identified only by the name Mohammadreza, was quoted as saying by Reuters.

While female students are attending university classes, the Taliban has asked authorities to segregate classrooms by gender and if that was not possible, to separate boys and girls using a curtain.

In early July, Reuters reported that, as Taliban insurgents were seizing territory from government forces across Afghanistan, “fighters from the group walked into the offices of Azizi Bank in the southern city of Kandahar and ordered nine women working there to leave.”

So far, only women who worked in the health and education sectors have been able to return to work.

A women’s rights group, the Movement for Change, on Sunday held a press conference and said they were planning street protests if the Taliban didn’t allow girls’ education and women to go back to work.

The group led by former lawmaker Fawzia Koofi has appealed to the international community to make all aid conditional to this demand.

In the first-ever press conference by the Taliban after their takeover, spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid said women would have rights to education, health and employment and that they would be “happy within the framework of Sharia.”

Former Afghan President, Hamid Karzai, spoke out against the Taliban at the weekend, decrying the restrictions on girls’ education. “There is no other way. This will not be a country which stands on its own feet without education, especially for girls,” he said in an interview with The Sunday Times.

The UN also weighed in after the Taliban’s announcement about schools on Friday, saying girls should not be kept away from classrooms.

“The international community doesn’t have a lot of cards but it still has a few, and it should use them in defence of women’s rights,” Heather Barr, associate director of the women’s rights division at Human Rights Watch, was quoted as saying by WSJ.

She added that the international community “faces the tricky task of trying to stem the humanitarian crisis, while also exerting leverage — this is hard but not impossible if the political will is there.”

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