Some Girls Were Allowed to Return to School in Afghanistan – for 3 Days

Dozens of girls protested after their brief return to education was cut short by local Taliban leaders.
girls schools afghanistan taliban
A girl studies in secret at an undisclosed location in Afghanistan. Photo: File/DANIEL LEAL/AFP via Getty Images

Girls were briefly readmitted into schools in at least one Afghan province, only for the Taliban to swiftly reverse the decision.

Female students were let back into high schools in Paktia, in eastern Afghanistan, last Tuesday, but by Saturday, they were being turned back by local Taliban fighters.

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Four girls secondary schools in Gardiz, the capital of Paktia province, and one high school in Samkani district were reported to have let girls back into classrooms. The good news spread quickly across the country, but the Taliban rushed to step in and shut the doors on young Afghan girls once again. 

The Taliban has left the issue of educating girls older than 11 hanging for over a year. Despite initially promising not to interfere with their education, girls have been banned from attending secondary school since last September. In March, the group made a last-minute decision to stop girls from returning to school as had been planned, with the Islamists citing concerns around “cultural” norms without much further clarification. 

Tens of female students in Gardiz city gathered in front of the local education directory building after they were turned back from their schools on Saturday. 

Girls’ education was among the only positive outcomes of the series of chronically corrupt Western-backed governments in Kabul since the NATO-led invasion of Afghanistan two decades ago that drove the Taliban out of Kabul. The number of girls getting an education increased from almost zero to 2.5 million.  

The Taliban’s return in August last year meant an estimated 3 million young girls’ education was at risk since the group closed schools for girls during their notorious first round of rule in the late 1990s. This time around, the Islamists kept the issue open-ended, leaving millions of girls in the country in limbo for over a year. 

Despite local and international pressure, the group has remained uncompromising in preventing girls from returning to school. Even if senior figures of the organisation openly said they have no issue as a matter of principle, an internal division between the different factions of the Taliban has left the case hanging for now as the group hopes for international recognition. 

The issue has become almost a bargaining chip for the group as they continue to engage countries around the region with hopes of avoiding the total isolation that took the government to extreme levels of poverty last time around. But senior figures like the acting Prime Minister, Mohammad Hasan Akhund, come from the group's ultra-conservative Kandahar wing

The Taliban, which is occupied with the transition from a guerrilla force into an organisation that would run a government, still need to make a final decision on the issue of education for girls. Either way, the group's return to power is only likely to deteriorate basic rights, particularly for women in Afghanistan, as rights groups put out monthly reports of terrible human rights records in the country. 

On Monday, the United Nations mission in Afghanistan said it was concerned by what it called the “pattern of incidents of harassment” against female UN workers by Taliban security forces.