Taliban prevent Afghan girls from going to school beyond 6th grade: NPR

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Girls enter a school ahead of class in Kabul on September 12, 2021. In a surprise move, the hardline leadership of Afghanistan’s new rulers decided not to open educational institutions to girls beyond sixth grade.

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Girls enter a school ahead of class in Kabul on September 12, 2021. In a surprise move, the hardline leadership of Afghanistan’s new rulers decided not to open educational institutions to girls beyond sixth grade.

Felipe Dana/AP

KABUL, Afghanistan – In a morning of tears and anger, the Taliban on Wednesday reneged on their promise to allow Afghan girls to attend secondary school, as thousands showed up at the gates of their former school in neat uniforms and carrying their satchels.

The sudden about-face has rekindled concerns that the Taliban could keep teenage girls out of education indefinitely. When the militant religious movement first ruled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001, girls were not allowed to study.

“Some of my classmates started crying,” said Sakina Jafari, an 18-year-old who was hoping to resume her 11th grade. “We were so excited to come back. And now we don’t know what’s going to happen to us.”

Another young woman who spoke to Afghan media outlet TOLO broke down in tears as she described being turned away after waiting 186 days – she had counted – for school to resume. “What is our crime? That we are girls? she raged.

Amid widespread condemnation, the Taliban gave no indication of when those classrooms will reopen. Most girls and young women have been barred from attending secondary school since the Taliban came to power in August.

The new Afghan leaders have reopened schools for boys and for girls up to 6th grade. They then allowed women to attend the university under strict segregation from male students and a strictly enforced dress code. But secondary school remained prohibited.

However, Taliban officials said on Monday they would allow all students – including secondary school girls – to take classes from Wednesday, the start of the Afghan New Year. But just as the girls showed up at their school gates, they were sent home by Taliban officials who told them to wait for an official announcement.

A senior official insisted the Taliban had not reneged but needed more time to decide on a school uniform for teenage girls.

“There is no problem with banning girls from going to school,” said Suhail Shaheen, the Taliban’s designated permanent ambassador to the United Nations, in response to a question from NPR. “It is only a technical matter to decide the shape of the school uniform for girls. We hope that the uniform issue will be resolved and finalized as soon as possible.”

This was echoed by a teacher from Kabul, who requested anonymity because she did not want to anger Taliban officials. She says that when the girls entered her class, the principal immediately dismissed them, telling them, “Don’t come in here until we get official permission. And when you come back, you have to wear a black veil, a black chador and a black scarf.'”

The teacher says his students were distressed. They argued that they were already wearing modest clothes – loose shirts and pants and scarves. “One of them said, ‘we are ready to wear burkas, but please let us stay,’” she recalled a young woman pleading. “But we told them they had to leave.”

An article by the pro-Taliban Bakhtar news agency, which celebrated the return of students to school, reports that the spokesman for the Ministry of Education, Mawlawi Aziz Ahmad Ryan, said that “schools for women from the sixth year are closed until further notice”.

Ryan said a plan would be formulated “in accordance with Islamic law and Afghan culture and traditions, as well as the decision of the Islamic emirate.”

Afghan students leave class at a primary school in Kabul on March 27, 2021.

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Afghan students leave class at a primary school in Kabul on March 27, 2021.

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The phrase “culture and traditions” is often shorthand in the Muslim world for imposing rules that deny women their rights under Islam on the grounds that the local culture does not permit it. Islamic teaching and practice encourage men and women to study and learn.

Western countries have made getting girls back to school a key condition for restarting aid to the cash-strapped Afghan government. These donors largely halted their aid after the United States withdrew from Afghanistan and the Taliban took power. For others, allowing Afghan girls to receive an education is a prerequisite for recognition of the Taliban regime.

“I deeply regret today’s announcement by the Taliban authorities in Afghanistan that education for girls from grade six has been suspended until further notice,” said the UN Secretary General, António Guterres, in a press release. “I urge the de facto Taliban authorities to open schools for all students without further delay.”

US Charge d’Affaires Ian McCary tweeted that he was “deeply troubled“by the reversal of policy.

Nobel Peace Prize laureate Malala Yousafzai, who was shot in the face by a Taliban fighter in Pakistan for her advocacy for girls’ education, said she was disappointed. “I had one hope for today: that Afghan girls who walk to school won’t be sent home. But the Taliban have not kept their promise. They will continue to find excuses to prevent girls to learn – because they are afraid of educated and empowered girls”. women,” she said in a statement.

Decision reflects reported splits within Taliban leadership

The Taliban’s sharp turnaround highlights what analysts see as an internal debate over whether girls should go to high school.

These divisions are illustrated by a tweet from Ahmad Yasser, the chief executive of the office of the first deputy prime minister. He wrote that he saw no religious justification for girls not attending school, but subsequently deleted the tweet.

Heather Barr of Human Rights Watch, which focuses on women’s rights in Afghanistan, says the latest news “is absolutely devastating”.

She said she feared it signaled a repeat of the days when the Taliban did not allow girls to go to school when they ruled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001.

That’s when the Taliban said the closure of girls’ schools was “a temporary situation,” Barr said.

“And they would allow the girls to study…once the conditions were right,” she said.

But that moment never happened,” Barr said. “And today I feel like it will never happen this time either.”

Hadid reported from Islamabad; Qazizai reported from Kabul.

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