Afghan girls’ future uncertain after 1 year out of school

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KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — For most teenage girls in Afghanistan, it’s been a year since they set foot in a classroom. With no indication the ruling Taliban will let them go back to school, some are trying to find ways to keep education from stalling for a generation of young women.

In a house in Kabul, dozens of people gathered in recent days for classes at an informal school founded by Sodaba Najand. She and her sister teach English, science and math to girls who should be in secondary school.

“When the Taliban wanted to take away women’s rights to education and to work, I wanted to stand up against their decision by educating these girls,” Nazand told the Associated Press.

Hers is one of several underground schools that have been running since the Taliban took over the country a year ago and banned girls from continuing education beyond sixth grade. While the Taliban do allow women to attend universities, this exception will become irrelevant if there are no girls graduating from high schools.

“There is no way to fill this gap, and this situation is very sad and worrying,” Nazand said.

Relief agency Save the Children interviewed nearly 1,700 boys and girls aged 9 to 17 in seven provinces to assess the impact of education restrictions.

Afghan girls read the Quran at Noor Mosque outside Kabul city in Afghanistan on August 3, 2022. The head of the mosque, Maulvi Bakhtulla, said that the number of girls coming to this mosque to learn the Quran has increased manifold. closure of government schools.

The survey, conducted in May and June and released on Wednesday, found that more than 45% of girls are not attending school compared to 20% of boys. It was also found that 26% of girls are showing signs of depression as compared to 16% of boys.

Almost the entire population of Afghanistan was thrown into poverty and millions were left unable to feed their families when the world stopped funding in response to the Taliban takeover.

Teachers, parents and experts all warn that many of the country’s crises, including the devastating collapse of the economy, are proving particularly damaging to girls. The Taliban have restricted women’s work, encouraged them to stay at home, and issued dress codes that require them to cover their faces, except for their eyes, although the codes are not always enforced. .

The international community is demanding that the Taliban open schools for all girls, and the US and European Union plan to directly pay salaries to Afghan teachers, keeping the sector running without putting money through the Taliban.

Afghan girls attend a religious school that opened since the Taliban takeover last year in Kabul, Afghanistan, on August 11, 2022.
Afghan girls attend a religious school that opened since the Taliban takeover last year in Kabul, Afghanistan, on August 11, 2022.

But the question of girls’ education appears to be embroiled in behind-the-scenes differences between the Taliban. Some in the movement support girls returning to school – whether they have any religious objection to it or because they want to improve relations with the world. Others, especially the rural, tribal elders, who are the backbone of the movement, strongly oppose it.

When ruling Afghanistan for the first time in the 1990s, the Taliban imposed very strict restrictions on women, banning school for all girls, barring women from working and requiring them to wear a broad burqa when they go out. Was.

In the 20 years since the Taliban was ousted from power in 2001, an entire generation of women returned to school and work, especially in urban areas. Acknowledging those changes, the Taliban reassured Afghans when they regained control last year that they would not return to the heavy hand of the past.

Officials have publicly insisted they will allow teenage girls to return to school, but say the need of the hour is to establish the logistics for strict gender segregation to ensure an “Islamic framework”.

Hopes were raised in March: Just before the new school year started, the Taliban education ministry announced that everyone would be allowed back. But on March 23, the day of the reopening, the decision was suddenly reversed, surprising even ministry officials. It appeared that at the last minute, Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada, the supreme leader of the Taliban, bowed down to the opposition.

Afghan girls hold an illegal protest demanding their right to education at a private home in Kabul, Afghanistan, on August 2, 2022.
Afghan girls hold an illegal protest demanding their right to education at a private home in Kabul, Afghanistan, on August 2, 2022.

Shakeba Qadri, 16, recalled how she was all set to start class 10 that day. He and all his classmates were laughing and excited, until a teacher came and asked them to go home. Tears welled up in the girls’ eyes, she said. “That was the worst moment of our lives.”

Since then, she has been trying to continue her studies at home, reading her own textbooks, novels and history books. She is learning English through movies and YouTube videos.

Unequal access to education cuts through families. Shakiba and a younger sister cannot go to their school, but her two brothers can. Her elder sister is studying law in a private university. But it is a matter of little comfort, his father Mohammad Shah Qadri said. Most professors have left the country, reducing the quality of education.

“What’s the use even if the girl gets a university degree?” asked Qadri, a 58-year-old retired government employee.

“He won’t have a job. The Taliban won’t let him work.”

Qadri said that he always wanted his children to get higher education. Now that may be impossible, so he is looking to leave Afghanistan for the first time after pulling out of years of war.

“I cannot watch them grow before my eyes without education; This is not acceptable to me,” he said.

Underground schools offer another option, though with limitations.

Afghan girls attend a class at an underground school in Kabul, Afghanistan, Saturday, July 30, 2022.
Afghan girls attend a class at an underground school in Kabul, Afghanistan, Saturday, July 30, 2022.

A month after the Taliban takeover, Nazand began teaching street children to read with informal outdoor classes in a neighborhood park. He said that women who could not read or write joined them. Some time later, a philanthropist who had seen her in the park rented a house and bought tables and chairs for her to class in. Once she was working inside, Nazand consisted of teenage girls who were no longer allowed to attend public school.

Now there are around 250 students, of which 50 or 60 are schoolgirls above the sixth grade.

“I am not only teaching them school subjects but also trying to teach them how to fight and stand up for their rights,” Nazand said. He said the Taliban had not changed since they first came to power in the 1990s. “These are the same Taliban, but we should not be the same women of those years. We must fight: by writing, raising our voices, in any way possible.”

Fereshteh, a Hazara Shia student, poses for a photograph in her classroom in Kabul, Afghanistan on April 23, 2022.
Fereshteh, a Hazara Shia student, poses for a photograph in her classroom in Kabul, Afghanistan on April 23, 2022.

Najand’s school and other schools like it are technically illegal under current Taliban sanctions, but they haven’t closed it yet. At least one other person running the school refused to speak to reporters for fear of possible repercussions.

Despite his unwavering commitment, Najand worries about the future of his school. Her beneficiary paid six months’ rent on the house, but she recently died, and she has no way of paying for rent or supplies.

Underground schools are the lifeline for the students.

“It’s so hard when you can’t go to school,” said one of them, Dunya Arabbazada. “Whenever I walk by my school and see the locked door… it’s very disturbing to me.”

Faiz reported from Islamabad, Pakistan.

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