Girls’ despair as Taliban confirms secondary school ban

Girls' despair as Taliban confirms secondary school ban
Schools in Afghanistan have only re-opened for girls at primary level. Source: Reuters
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Daily US Times: Teenage schoolgirls in Afghanistan have told the BBC of their growing desperation as they continue to be excluded from school more than three months after the Taliban takeover.

“Not being able to study feels like a death penalty,” says 15-year-old Meena. She says that she and her friends feel lost and confused since the closure of their school in north-eastern Badakhshan province.

“We have nothing to do apart from housework… we are just frozen in one place,” says Laila, 16, whose school in Takhar province shut the day the Taliban seized power in August.

BBC interviews with students and headteachers in 13 provinces show girls’ frustration at still being barred from secondary school, despite assurances from the Taliban that they would be able to resume their studies “as soon as possible”.

Teachers, nearly all of whom had not been paid since June, said the situation was affecting girls’ wellbeing, with one blaming the closures for the underage marriage of three of her students.

One headteacher from Kabul, who stays in touch with her students via Whatsapp, said: “The students are really upset, they’re suffering mentally. I try to give them hope but it’s hard because they are exposed to so much sadness and disappointment.”

Teachers also reported a worrying drop in attendance among girls in primary schools, who have been allowed to return. They said that increased poverty and security concerns meant families were reluctant to send younger girls to school.

Officials have previously avoided confirming that this was an outright ban. But in an interview with the BBC, acting Deputy Education Minister Abdul Hakim Hemat confirmed that girls would not be allowed to attend secondary school until a new education policy was approved in the new year.

Despite this, some girls’ schools are reported to have re-opened after negotiating with local Taliban officials.

In the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif in Balkh province, one head teacher told us that there were no problems and girls were attending school as normal.

But another student in the same city told the BBC that a group of armed Taliban fighters had been approaching schoolgirls on the streets, telling them to make sure their hair and mouths were not visible. As a result around a third of her class had stopped coming to school.

“We have our life in our hands when we leave home. People don’t smile. The situation is not calm. We are shivering with fear,” she said. The Taliban government ordered boys to return to secondary school in September, but made no mention of girls.

Headteachers in three different provinces told the BBC that they had reopened schools, only to be told to close by local officials without explanation a day later. Girls had been turning up at the school gates every day asking when they would be allowed to return, one said.

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