Students in tears after Taliban say high schools to remain shut for girls

Last-minute decision triggers backlash from activists and international community

Arpan Rai
Wednesday 23 March 2022 12:21 GMT
Taliban spokesman tells BBC that women and girls 'will still have access to education'

Afghanistan’s Taliban leaders took a U-turn on their decision to open educational institutions to girls beyond grade six, leaving many teenagers and women teachers distraught.

High schools would remain shut for girls till authorities come up with a plan that complies with Islamic Sharia law, the hardline leadership said on Wednesday, the first day of the new school year in Afghanistan.

Visuals shared by Afghanistan’s television news channels showed teenaged girls breaking down after finding out about the decision.

One student said: “We all got disappointed and we all became totally hopeless when the principal told us, she was also crying.”

One video showed a girl weeping as she returned home with her school bag. The video shows her putting down her bag and sitting down on the floor to cry harder as she says she was not allowed in school.

After months of pressure from global leaders, Taliban’s education ministry had announced last week that it was opening schools for all students, including girls, around the country.

The move was seen as a departure from Taliban’s decades-long hardline stance on controlling women’s education and work.

Even as late as Tuesday evening, the ministry spokesperson shared a video congratulating all students on the resumption of classes.

However, just hours before the schools were to open, it backtracked on the move and said that the schools would be closed for girls until a plan was drawn up in accordance with Islamic law and Afghan culture, reported Bakhtar News, a government news agency.

“We inform all girls high schools and those schools that are having female students above class six that they are off until the next order,” the notice read.

In its previous militant rule from 1996 to 2001, the Taliban had banned female education and employment opportunities. It had mandated that all women should be accompanied by a male family member, mostly their husband or father, in public spaces.

This last-minute decision by the Taliban has triggered backlash from locals, activists and the international community, including several United Nations bodies.

The UN in Afghanistan said 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”.

“Hearing disturbing reports that female students above the sixth grade will not be invited back to school by the authorities, if true, what could possibly be the reason?” Deborah Lyons, the head of the United Nations’ mission to Afghanistan, said in a tweet.

“Taliban promised to send girls back to school today, got all those young hopes up, and at the last minute reneged to say secondary school girls may not attend school, after all,” said author and editor Megan K Stack on Twitter.

The move is a “performative cruelty” and shows total disregard for a generation of youth who’ve already endured too much, she added.

Afghan-origin UK lawmaker Peymana Assad also condemned the move and said that one cannot pin their hopes on terror, referring to the militant organisation’s terrorism roots and descent.

“Since when did Taliban ever stick to its word? They pretended to negotiate peace whilst they blew up hospitals & schools in Afghanistan. Now everyone is surprised that girls aren’t returning to school because Taliban promised it would happen? You can’t pin hope on terror,” Ms Assad wrote on Twitter.

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