Taliban ban girls from secondary education in Afghanistan

Government announces re-opening of high schools for boys but makes no mention of girls

The Taliban have effectively banned girls from secondary education in Afghanistan, by ordering high schools to re-open only for boys.

Girls were not mentioned in Friday’s announcement, which means boys will be back at their desks next week after a one-month hiatus, while their sisters will still be stuck at home.

The Taliban education ministry said secondary school classes for boys in grades seven to 12 would resume on Saturday, the start of the Afghan week. “All male teachers and students should attend their educational institutions,” the statement said. The future of girls and female teachers, stuck at home since the Taliban took control, was not addressed.

The edict makes Afghanistan the only country on earth to bar half its population from getting a secondary education.

In a further sign that the recently announced Taliban government is tightening restrictions on women, the former ministry of women’s affairs building in Kabul has been handed over to the newly re-established ministry for the prevention of vice and promotion of virtue.

This was the group’s feared enforcer in the 1990s, charged with beating women who violated bars on everything from going out in public without a male guardian to an obsessively prescriptive dress code that even forbade high heels.

The decision on education has worrying echoes of the tactics the Taliban used in the 1990s, when they last ruled Afghanistan, to bar girls from school without issuing a formal prohibition.

“Education and literacy are so strongly valued in Islam that the Taliban could not ban girls schools on Islamic grounds, so they always said they would open them when security improved. It never did. They never opened the schools,” said Kate Clark, co-director of the Afghanistan Analysts Network, who worked in Afghanistan at the time.

That decision did not spell the end of education for women, with some small classes in homes, and schools run in provinces by charities, she said. However, it did turn the basic childhood right to seek an education into a high-stakes gamble.

“There was always the fear that they could be closed in a moment. Or that teachers would be beaten or detained. This happened. Teaching girls was risky, a brave act of resistance, but not impossible.”

The Taliban appeared somewhat more open to women’s education when they ordered all primary school students back to class, and said women could study for degrees, albeit in a strictly gender-segregated system that will dramatically lower the range and quality of women’s options.

But if the high schools do not reopen for girls, the commitments to allow university education would become meaningless once the current cohort of students graduated.

The Taliban government is courting international recognition and funds, as Afghanistan hovers on the brink of economic collapse, and is aware that the international community is watching its treatment of women particularly closely.

Despite this, its leaders have already effectively barred the majority of Afghan women from work for the last month, calling their male colleagues back into offices but saying security conditions mean it is not safe for women.

That reason was used to prevent women from working for the entire five-year period the group controlled Afghanistan in the 1990s. Now, as then, only some women in the health and education sectors are back at their jobs.

However, the Taliban are now in charge of a capital, and a country, very different from the war-battered city they took over in 1996. They are likely to face strong pushback from women, including older students, and the many Afghan fathers and brothers who want the women in their families to get an education.

“The population they have given themselves the challenge of trying to rule has doubled in size and expectations have gone sky-high compared to the 1990s. We can anticipate there will be reactions and maybe the Taliban will be forced to backpedal or consider some differences,” said Prof Michael Semple from the Mitchell Institute of Global Peace, Security and Justice.

“In some areas [in the 1990s] the Taliban simply tolerated girls’ primary schools, and in other areas where people challenged them they did back down. In Jaghori girls went on hunger strike to defend their education, and they won. So the story does not end with these Taliban edicts.”

Contributor

Emma Graham-Harrison in Kandahar

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Uncertainty hovers over Helmand’s schools as Taliban ban older girls
At Malalay school, Lashkar Gah, female staff struggle into work despite anxiety over their jobs and half their pupils missing

Emma Graham-Harrison in Lashkar Gah

30, Sep, 2021 @12:00 PM

Article image
Afghan government money reaching Taliban through marble trade
Intent on maintaining a marble industry, government buys stone from firms who in turn pay fees and taxes to Taliban

Sune Engel Rasmussen in Lashkar Gah

03, Jun, 2016 @4:00 AM

Article image
Taliban and Afghanistan restart secret talks in Qatar
Exclusive: Senior sources say US diplomat was present for first known negotiations since Pakistan-brokered process broke down in 2013

Sami Yousafzai, Jon Boone in Islamabad and Sune Engel Rasmussen in Kabul

18, Oct, 2016 @4:00 AM

Article image
‘Lost generation’: education in quarter of countries at risk of collapse, study warns
Covid, climate breakdown, poverty and war threaten return to school after pandemic kept 1.5bn children out of classes

Lizzy Davies

06, Sep, 2021 @6:01 AM

Article image
‘Terrible days ahead’: Afghan women fear the return of the Taliban
After 20 years of liberty, female education is once again threatened by hardline Islamists

Akhtar Mohammad Makoii in Herat and Michael Safi

14, Apr, 2021 @3:34 PM

Article image
Taliban ready to lift ban on girls' schools, says minister

Afghanistan minister claims leadership has undergone 'cultural change' and no longer opposes female education

Jon Boone in Kabul

13, Jan, 2011 @6:15 PM

Article image
Girls gain ground in Kandahar culture wars as education prospects improve | Matthew Green
A surge in the number of private schools is offering fresh hope for the future to young Afghans in Kandahar, once the seat of the Taliban theocracy

Matthew Green in Kandahar

31, Oct, 2016 @7:00 AM

Article image
Afghanistan executes six Taliban prisoners
Judicial killings come after president Ashraf Ghani’s pledged that country’s ‘amnesty’ for militants was over

Sune Engel Rasmussen in Kabul

08, May, 2016 @2:30 PM

Article image
Taliban takeover of Afghanistan will reshape Middle East, official warns
Gulf states are having to reconsider their alliances and especially whether they can still trust the US, says senior source

Patrick Wintour Diplomatic editor

13, Sep, 2021 @6:53 PM

Article image
Violent attacks on Afghan journalists by Taliban prompt growing alarm
As images circulate of the brutal flogging of two reporters, a senior Afghan journalist declares ‘press freedom has ended’

Emma Graham-Harrison in Kandahar, and Peter Beaumont

09, Sep, 2021 @4:44 PM