KABUL (AFP) – The Taleban ordered girls’ secondary schools in Afghanistan to shut on Wednesday just hours after they re-opened, an official confirmed, sparking confusion and heartbreak over the policy reversal by the group.
“Yes, it’s true,” Taleban spokesman Inamullah Samangani told AFP when asked to confirm reports that girls had been ordered home.
He would not immediately explain the reasoning, while Education Ministry spokesman Aziz Ahmad Rayan said: “We are not allowed to comment on this.”
An AFP team was filming at Zarghona High School in the capital, Kabul, when a teacher entered and said class was over.
Crestfallen students, back at school for the first time since the Taleban seized power in August last year, tearfully packed up their belongings and filed out.
“I see my students crying and reluctant to leave classes,” said teacher at Omra Khan girls’ school in Kabul Palwasha.
“It is very painful to see your students crying.”
United Nations (UN) envoy Deborah Lyons called reports of the closure “disturbing”.
“If true, what could possibly be the reason?” she tweeted.
When the Taleban took over last August, schools were closed because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but only boys and younger girls were allowed to resume classes two months later.
There were fears the Taleban would shut down all formal education for girls, as they did during their first stint in power from 1996 to 2001.
The international community has made the right to education for all a sticking point in negotiations over aid and recognition of the new Taleban regime, with several nations and organisations offering to pay teachers.
On Wednesday, the order for girls’ secondary schools to resume appeared to only be patchily observed, with reports emerging from some parts of the country – including the Taleban’s spiritual heartland of Kandahar – that classes would restart next month instead.
But several did re-open in the capital and elsewhere, including Herat and Panjshir – temporarily at least. “All the students that we are seeing today are very happy, and they are here with open eyes,” principal of Gawharshad Begum High School in Herat Latifa Hamdard told AFP. The Education Ministry said re-opening the schools was always a government objective and the Taleban were not bowing to international pressure.
“We are doing it as part of our responsibility to provide education and other facilities to our students,” ministry spokesman Rayan told AFP on Tuesday.
The Taleban have imposed a slew of restrictions on women, effectively banning them from many government jobs, policing what they wear and preventing them from travelling outside of their cities alone.
They have also detained several women’s rights activists.
Even if schools do re-open fully, barriers to girls returning to education remain, with many families suspicious of the Taleban and reluctant to allow their daughters outside.
Others see little point in girls learning at all.
“Those girls who have finished their education have ended up sitting at home and their future is uncertain,” said Heela Haya, 20, from Kandahar, who has decided to quit school.
“What will be our future?”
It is common for Afghan pupils to miss chunks of the school year as a result of poverty or conflict, and some continue lessons well into their late teens or early twenties.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) also raised the issue of the few avenues girls are given to apply their education.
“Why would you and your family make huge sacrifices for you to study if you can never have the career you dreamed of?” said assistant researcher with the group Sahar Fetrat.
The Education Ministry acknowledged authorities faced a shortage of teachers – with many among the tens of thousands of people who fled the country as the Taleban swept to power.
“We need thousands of teachers and to solve this problem we are trying to hire new teachers on a temporary basis,” the spokesman said.