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Afghan Girls Suffer Under School Closures

Despite repeated calls on the Taliban to allow girls to attend classes again, the group still has yet to answer. Netizens have taken to the web under the #LetAfghanGirlsLearn campaign to demand back the right to study.
Advocates say the school closures are taking a psychological toll on girls and their families
Advocates say the school closures are taking a psychological toll on girls and their families

Since the hardline Taliban took over Afghanistan, the group has imposed numerous limitations on girls and women, one of the most detrimental of which is the ban on education for girls.

Human rights agencies continue to warn of the consequences of school closures in the country. The US-based Human Rights Watch said the ban has created “devastating consequences for them [girls], their families, and the country’s future.”

During the Taliban’s last reign of power, from 1996 to 2001, the Islamic fundamentalist group imposed an array of restrictions on women, requiring them to wear the all-encompassing burqa, and barring them from public life and education.

After they seized power again last August, the hardline government’s previous stance appeared to have softened after they announced that there wouldn’t be a dress code for women. But the Taliban has so far forced women out of public life and has imposed various limitations on Afghan women and girls.

In response, the social media campaign #LetAfghanGirlsLearn is calling on the Taliban to reopen schools for girls.

The Taliban have repeatedly said that they are working on a mechanism to reopen girls’ schools, but despite numerous promises, girls above the sixth grade have yet to enter a classroom again. Experts say there is division among top Taliban leadership regarding the issue.

Shahrzad Akbar, the former head of Afghanistan’s independent human rights commission, said that she will celebrate when Afghan girls get their rights back. “Every day, I am devastated that girls are kept out of school for one more day in Afghanistan. The stories of these incredible women is a reminder of the potential of Afghan women, what they could do for their country and for the world, if they are given the opportunity,” Akbar tweeted.

Women’s rights activists, meanwhile, say that school closures have further exacerbated forced marriages and family violence.

Before the Taliban entered Kabul last year, Sharifa, (name changed) was a ninth grade student in a Kabul school. She was top in her class from third through ninth grade, and had been a role model for other girls in her school. 

During the last 300 days of school closures, her daily routine changed and she has turned to drawing and painting. In her pictures, she draws memories of school, her teachers and her classroom. 

“When I see my school books, notes and meet my classmates, we all remember the good days. But when I see that we are not allowed to enter school, it breaks my heart. With this situation we have lost hope and our future is dark and very painful,” Sharifa told DW.

Despite the situation, Sharifa still holds out hope that girls’ schools will reopen their doors. “After every sundown there is a hope for a new tomorrow, and that means that we shouldn’t lose hope,” she said. 

However, this is the second time that history has repeated itself for this Afghan family. Farzana, Sharifa’s mother, said she was a sixth grade student when the Taliban first came to power years prior. “This time, the school closure reminded me of our student life when the Taliban shut down girls’ schools,” she told DW.

Karima (name changed) meanwhile is an Afghan mother of two girls and a boy in Kabul. She said she is worried about the health and psychological effects of the school closures on her children.

“The school closure has not only affected my children, but me as well. I am not able to attend ceremonies or go out for a break, instead I have to stay home and look after my children. I fear that they will think of harming themselves,” she told DW.

Ahead of the UN General Assembly this September, activists in an open letter called on relevant parties to take bold and coordinated actions for women’s rights in Afghanistan. In the letter, they called on the international community to “increase pressure on the de-facto authorities in Afghanistan to lift the ban on girls’ rights to secondary education and women’s right to work.” They also called on the world to “demonstrate solidarity through action.”

The German embassy in Kabul has also joined the call. In an Eid message to Afghans, the German embassy tweeted: “Germany and its international partners will continue to support the Afghan people and speak out for their rights, especially for the rights of girls and women in Afghanistan.”

Rina Amiri, the US special envoy for Afghan women, girls and human rights, issued calls to stand with the Afghan people and women: “I ask that men & women, leaders & scholars, clerics & activists in the Muslim world stand with the Afghan people, particularly women & girls who are facing some of the most extreme restrictions in the world,” Amiri tweeted.

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