Taliban abruptly decide to keep secondary schools closed for girls

The Taliban have suddenly halted a plan to reopen secondary schools for girls, reversing an earlier promise and dealing another blow to women’s rights under their rule.

Most schools for girls above sixth grade have been closed since the Taliban took over Afghanistan in August. The group had previously said all teenage girls would be allowed to return to classes from March 23, the start of the new school year.

But late Tuesday, the Taliban Ministry of Education ordered secondary schools for girls to remain closed until further notice. Girls’ schools would not reopen until uniforms were designed in accordance with Islamic law and tradition, the ministry said.

In an interview, a ministry official, Waheedullah Hashimi, said no date had been set for reopening secondary schools for girls.

The international community is pressuring the Taliban to respect women’s rights, beginning with the reopening of all schools for girls. The Taliban, anxious for their government to be recognized as legitimate, have long said they support education for teenage girls as a matter of principle, as long as proper gender segregation safeguards are in place.

But education for women remains a contentious issue for the Taliban. When they first came to power in the 1990s, they banned all education for girls, including elementary school, and barred women from almost all professions.

A girl is studying with her brother in a home in Kunduz province on Saturday.


-/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images

Many Taliban remain hostile to the idea that women and girls should be educated or play an active role in public life. The Taliban leadership is also aware that softening its women’s policies could persuade its uncompromising members to defect to the regional affiliate of Islamic State. The Islamic State and the Taliban see each other as enemies.

Teachers, parents and hundreds of thousands of students preparing to return to school were surprised by the night’s announcement. On Wednesday morning, many girls put on their uniforms and headed to school – only to find they had to go home.

“I thought life would get back to normal this spring, the girls would go back to school and pursue their dreams, but the disaster continues,” said Somaya, 25, a high school teacher from Kabul, who didn’t want her full name is called . “This announcement makes me feel like I did when the Taliban first invaded the city: desperate, angry, insecure. The Taliban have not changed. Her attitude towards women is always the same.”

The international condemnation came quickly. The United Nations Mission in Afghanistan said it regretted the decision to extend the school ban for teenage girls.

Since taking power, the Taliban have tried to convey an image of security and normality. But as WSJ’s Sune Rasmussen reports from Kabul, harsh penalties, violence and a crackdown on fundamental freedoms are becoming a reality. Photo: Bulent Kilic/AFP/Getty Images

US Charge d’Affaires for Afghanistan Ian McCary said he was “deeply disturbed” by the news. “This is very disappointing and contradicts many of the assurances and statements made by the Taliban,” he said.

Despite hearing schools would remain closed, Zainab Maqsudi, an eighth-grade student, went to her school in west Kabul on Wednesday morning in hopes it would be open. She joined a large group of girls waiting outside the main gate.

“We weren’t allowed in. The Taliban started firing in the air. I ran away, I was scared. All the girls scattered and fled the area,” the 14-year-old said. “I’m so sad that they didn’t allow me to go to school. You are playing with my future.”

It was particularly difficult for Ms. Maqsudi to get an education even before the Taliban invaded Afghanistan. In May last year, suspected Islamic State fighters stormed their school in western Kabul. She was injured in this attack, which still gives her nightmares.

“I appeal to the Islamic Emirate to allow us to study for the sake of progress and for our country,” she said. The Taliban refer to their government as the Islamic Emirate.

When a schoolgirl in Kabul heard the news, she burst into tears on live TV. “What is there to say? What can we do? We are girls, we are from Afghanistan. But we are human too. Why can’t we go to school?” she told a reporter from Afghan TV station Tolo News. “How long does this have to go on? It has already been 186 days.”


School girls in Kabul on Wednesday. The Taliban have long said they are fundamentally in favor of education for teenage girls.


Ahmad Sahel Arman/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images

Elsewhere in Kabul, a group of schoolgirls in black-and-white uniforms protested the continued closure of their school, Afghan TV reported. Another group of schoolgirls, who hid their faces, posted a video of them holding up signs denouncing the school ban.

“Hijab is an excuse. Misogyny is the plan,” read one of the signs, referring to the Islamic headgear. “Education is my right,” read another.

In September, the new Taliban government ordered the reopening of secondary schools for boys but said nothing about girls. That was tantamount to keeping middle and high schools closed to girls.

The Taliban’s mixed stance on women’s education is reflected in their policies. Primary schools reopened to girls in September and women returned to university classes last month.

Since September, the Taliban have allowed some secondary schools for girls to reopen in some provinces. These provinces are mostly in the north, where attitudes toward women are generally more liberal than in the rural south, traditional Taliban strongholds.

In one of those provinces, Balkh, the Taliban introduced strict gender segregation after schools reopened in the fall.

“The changes are enormous,” says a teacher from the city of Mazar-e-Sharif, who asked not to be named. “We cannot sit in an office with our male colleagues. Our principal is a man. We must not go to him to solve our problems.”

write to Margherita Stancati at margherita.stancati@wsj.com and Ehsanullah Amiri at Ehsanullah.Amiri@wsj.com

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https://www.wsj.com/articles/taliban-abruptly-decide-to-keep-secondary-schools-closed-to-girls-11648034117 Taliban abruptly decide to keep secondary schools closed for girls

Ethan Gach

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