Afghan Girls Crushed as Taliban Rescind Decision to Reopen Schools

The Taliban government in Afghanistan announced Wednesday that girls' high schools would remain shut on the same day they were set to reopen.

Taliban officials said schools must remain closed because it has not yet been decided what uniform students must wear, the BBC reported. The announcement came as some girls had already returned to the school, and many girls who had hoped to resume their education were in tears, the BBC said.

Girls' education has been a key issue since the Taliban took power in Afghanistan in August 2021. Although the Taliban government has said it will respect women's rights more than it did in the past, it was feared that these were just empty promises. The latest move on school closing is another example of what the Human Rights Watch calls the "fragility of women's rights" in Afghanistan.

Wednesday was supposed to be the first day girls in grades seven and up could return to school. Although the Taliban imposed some restrictions, such as saying that girls had to be separated from male students and taught exclusively by female teachers unless none were available, it announced that all girls would be able to return to school this week.

Girls expressed excitement at returning to school, with about 200 coming to the Sayed ul Shuhada high school, where the BBC was permitted to report from. A student named Sakina recalled a suicide bombing that was carried out at the school by an Islamic State militant group affiliate last year. More than 90 school employees and some of her classmates were killed.

"Our revenge on the people who did this will be continuing our education," she told the BBC. "We want to succeed in our lives so we can fulfill the dreams of our martyrs."

Video from local media shows girls breaking down into tears upon hearing the decision.

"We just want to be able to learn and serve our people," a girl named Fatima told the BBC. "What kind of country is this? What is our sin?"

Shukria Barakzai, an Afghan politician and journalist now in London, told Al Jazeera some provinces in Afghanistan do not have primary schools for girls. Also, the country is experiencing a teacher shortage, meaning access to education is an issue not just for the girls who have been explicitly banned from going to school, the report added.

When the Taliban ruled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001, they banned nearly all education for girls and women, imposing punishments such as stoning, lashing and amputation for disobeying the ban, according to Human Rights Watch (HRW).

When the Taliban took back control of the country last August, a Taliban spokesman said women would be allowed to continue their education, but "his claims ring more hollow than ever," the HRW report said.

"[This decision] shows that the Taliban is exactly the same as before—they are against girls' education," Barakzai told Al Jazeera.

Update 3/23/22, 11:50 a.m. ET: This story was updated to add more information and background.

Girls' Schools in Afghanistan to Remain Closed
Taliban officials said girls would not return to their classrooms in Afghanistan this week, despite a school reopening that was set for Wednesday. Above, schoolgirl Marwa Ayoubi, right, and Madina Mohammadi study at a home in Kandahar on March 20. Photo by Javed Tanveer/AFP via Getty Images