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Nationwide protests if Afghan girls’ schools stay shut

KABUL (AFP) – Women’s rights activists pledged yesterday to launch a wave of protests across Afghanistan if the Taleban fail to re-open girls’ secondary schools within a week.

Thousands of secondary school girls had flocked to classes on Wednesday after the hardline extremists re-opened their institutions for the first time since seizing power last August.
But officials ordered the schools shut again just hours into the day, triggering international outrage.

“We call on the leaders of the Islamic Emirate to open girls’ schools within one week,” activist Halima Nasari read from a statement issued by four women’s rights groups at a press conference in Kabul.

“If the girls’ schools remain closed even after one week, we will open them ourselves and stage demonstrations throughout the country until our demands are met.”

The Taleban should be building more schools for girls in the country’s remote rural areas rather than shutting existing facilities, said the statement, which comes after several high-profile women’s activists in the country were detained in recent months.

A group of Afghan women activists attend a press conference in Kabul. Photo: AFP

“The people can no longer tolerate such oppression. We do not accept any excuse from the authorities,” it said. On Saturday, about two dozen schoolgirls and women staged a protest in Kabul demanding the re-opening of the schools.

The Education Ministry has so far not given a clear reason for its policy reversal, but senior Taleban leader Suhail Shaheel told AFP that some “practical issues” were still to be resolved before re-opening the schools.

Since storming back to power the Taleban have rolled back two decades of gains made by the country’s women, who have been squeezed out of many government jobs, barred from travelling alone, and ordered to dress according to a strict interpretation of religious texts.

The Taleban had promised a softer version of the harsh extremist rule that characterised their first stint in power from 1996 to 2001.

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