The United Nations on Sunday urged the Taliban to reopen high schools for girls across Afghanistan, condemning the ban that began exactly a year ago as “tragic and shameful.”
Weeks after hard-line Islamists seized power in August last year, they reopened schools for boys on September 18, but banned female secondary school students from attending classes.
Months later, on March 23, the Ministry of Education opened secondary schools for girls, but within hours the Taliban leadership ordered them closed again.
Since then, more than a million teenage girls have been denied an education across the country, the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) said.
“This is a tragic, shameful and completely preventable anniversary,” said Markus Potzel, the acting head of UNAMA.
“It is deeply damaging to a generation of girls and to the future of Afghanistan itself,” she said, adding that the ban is unprecedented in the world.
UN chief Antonio Guterres urged the Taliban to lift the ban.
“A year of lost knowledge and opportunities that will never be taken back,” Guterres wrote on Twitter.
“The girls belong in the school. The Taliban must let them back in.”
Several Taliban officials say the ban is only temporary, but they have also come up with a range of excuses for the shutdown — from a lack of funds to the time needed to reform the curriculum along Islamic lines.
Earlier this month, Education Minister Noorullah Munir was quoted by local media as saying it was a cultural issue, as many rural people did not want their teenage daughters to go to school.
– ‘Year of Disappointment’-
Grade 12 student Kawsar, who gave a pseudonym to protect her identity, said she was disappointed that her high school has been closed for a year.
“It was a black year, a year full of stress and disappointment,” he said.
“It is our primary right to have education. Society needs women doctors and teachers, boys alone cannot meet all the needs of society.”
Many conservative Afghan clerics within the Taliban are skeptical of modern education.
Last month, authorities said they were increasing compulsory religion courses at state universities, although no courses from the current curriculum would be dropped.
Reacting to the education minister’s comments in local media, Kainat, a school teacher, said parents and families across Afghanistan are eager to educate their daughters.
“They want their girls to achieve what they aim for, every family wants their children, including girls, to serve the nation,” said Kainat, who also gave a pseudonym.
“It is wrong to say that people in Afghanistan do not want their girls to be educated.”
After seizing power on August 15 last year during the chaotic withdrawal of foreign forces, the Taliban have promised a softer version of their hardline Islamist rule in Afghanistan between 1996 and 2001.
But within days, they began imposing severe restrictions on girls and women to conform to their strict vision of Islam — effectively removing them from public life.
In addition to closing girls’ high schools, the Taliban have barred women from many government positions and ordered them to cover up in public, preferably with an all-covering burqa.
Some girls’ high schools remained open in provinces far from the central power bases of Kabul and Kandahar due to pressure from families and tribal leaders.