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    Hours after Reopening, Taliban Closes Afghan Girls’ Schools

    CountriesAfghanistanHours after Reopening, Taliban Closes Afghan Girls' Schools
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    Hours after Reopening, Taliban Closes Afghan Girls’ Schools

    The Taliban has reneged on its pledge to allow secondary girls schools to reopen Wednesday, a day after Afghans ushered in Nowruz, of the traditional Afghan New Year.

    By Maliha Safi

    Barely hours after announcing that girl schools would reopen, the Taliban Wednesday ordered girls schools to continue being shut.

    It was announced that the schools would reopen once a plan was in place to reopen schools for girls in accordance with Islamic law.

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    The Taliban Education Ministry had said last week that schools for all students, including girls, would open across the country on March 22 after months of restrictions on education for high-school girls.

    On his way to Oslo for aid negotiations mid-January, Zabihullah Mujahid, the Islamic Emirate’s spokesman, had said that the education department would reopen all girl schools on Nowruz, or the traditional Afghan New Year, 21 March.

    A ministry spokesman even released a video welcoming all students back to class on Tuesday, only to follow it up with another notice announcing the continuation of the break in education until a plan was drawn up in accordance with Islamic law and Afghan culture.

    “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,” read the notice, carried by the government news agency, Bakhtar News.

    Aid agencies react

    Jan Egeland, head of the Norwegian Refugee Council, said that the notice casts a dark shadow on the start of the school year in Afghanistan.

    “Our teams on the ground tell us that in places where we work, girls were excited to return to school after eight months of closure, but arrived this morning only to be then turned away,” he said in a statement carried on the organisation’s website.

    Regional Director for UNICEF South Asia George Laryea-Adjei conveyed his disappointment over the decision in a Twitter message, calling the reversal “a major setback.”

    “When I woke up this morning, I was hopeful that every girl and every boy in #Afghanistan would have the opportunity to go to school,” Laryea-Adjei wrote. “I am deeply worried that girls from Grade 7 to Grade 12 cannot return to school. This news is a major setback — for girls and their futures.”

    “We hope the deeply concerning announcement by the Ministry of Education will be reversed. We expect the Taliban government to allow all girls and boys across the whole country to resume their complete education cycle, in line with earlier public assurances they have given,” NRC’s Jan Egeland said.

    “Limiting girls’ schooling to primary education will devastate their future and the future of Afghanistan,” he added.

    Scepticism

    The move to defer the reopening the schools, however, did not shock rights groups that have observed the Taliban for a while. Human Rights Watch (HRW), for instance, had expressed scepticism on this score when the Taliban had initially announced its willingness to allow girls to go back to school.

    “The Taliban’s pledge to allow all girls’ secondary schools in Afghanistan to reopen on March 23, 2022, needs careful monitoring,” HRW had said on Tuesday.

    “Taliban statements are often very different from Taliban actions,” said HRW’s Heather Barr. “No one should believe that the Taliban has stopped blocking girls from secondary education until the evidence from the ground shows that to be the case.”

    Girls’ Secondary schools have been mostly closed in Afghanistan for the past eight months, except in 6 of 34 provinces. Though, this was largely limited to the main cities in the provinces that allowed for schools to remain open for girl students.

    UNICEF estimates that over 4 million children are out of school, of which 60 per cent are girls.

    Simultaneously, it has been estimated that about 8 million children in crisis in Afghanistan require emergency education in 2022 –  an increase of nearly threefold compared to needs at the start of 2021.

    The cost of addressing the urgent needs of 1.5 million children and youth in the 2022 Afghanistan Humanitarian Response Plan for Afghanistan has been pegged at US$162 million.

    Qualified female teachers are scarce in remote areas, largely due to a lack of girls’ enrolment past primary grades, which further limits access for girls, making the issue a cyclical one.

     

    Image: Paula Bronstein  /  Human Rights Watch

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