UN condemns ‘disgraceful’ year-long ban on Afghan girls’ education

UN condemns ‘disgraceful’ year-long ban on Afghan girls’ education

The United Nations urged the Taliban on Sunday to open high schools for girls across Afghanistan, condemning the ban that began just a year ago as “tragic and shameful”.

Weeks after the hardline Islamists seized power in August last year, they opened high schools for boys on September 18 but banned middle school girls from attending classes.

Months later on March 23, the education ministry opened secondary schools for girls, but within hours the Taliban leadership ordered them closed again.

Since then, more than a million teenage girls have been excluded from education across the country, the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) said.

“This is a tragic, shameful and completely avoidable anniversary,” Markus Potzel, acting head of UNAMA, said in a statement.

“It is very harmful to the generation of girls and to the future of Afghanistan itself,” he said, adding that the ban had no parallel in the world.

United Nations chief Antonio Guterres urged the Taliban to revoke the ban.

“Years of lost knowledge and opportunities that will never be recovered,” Guterres said on Twitter.

“Girls go to school. The Taliban must let them back in.”

Some Taliban officials say the ban is only temporary, but they have a litany of excuses for the closures – from lack of funds to time needed to reshape the syllabus along Islamic lines.

Earlier this month, the education minister, Noorullah Munir, told local media that it was a cultural issue, as many people in the countryside did not want their teenage daughters to attend school.

– ‘The year of disappointment’ –

Grade 12 student Kawsar, who gave a pseudonym to protect her identity, said she has been frustrated that her high school has been closed for a year now.

“It was a dark year, a year full of stress and disappointment,” she said.

“Our main right is to have an education. Society needs female doctors and teachers, boys alone cannot meet all the needs of society.”

Many conservative Afghan clerics within the Taliban are skeptical of modern education.

Last month, the authorities said they were increasing compulsory religious classes in government universities, although no subject from the current curriculum would be dropped.

Responding to the education minister’s comments in the local media, Kainat, a school teacher, said that parents and families across Afghanistan were eager to educate their daughters.

“They want their girls to achieve their aim, every family wants their children, including girls, to serve the nation,” said Kainat, who also gave a pseudonym.

“It is wrong to say that people in Afghanistan do not want their girls to be educated.”

After seizing power on August 15 last year during the chaotic withdrawal of foreign forces, the Taliban promised a softer version of its harsh Islamic regime in Afghanistan between 1996 and 2001.

But within days, they began placing strict restrictions on girls and women to adhere to their strict vision of Islam — forcing them out of public life.

Besides closing girls’ high schools, the Taliban have banned women from many government jobs and ordered them to cover up in public, preferably an all-encompassing burqa.

Some high schools for girls remained open in provinces away from the central power bases of Kabul and Kandahar because of pressure from families and tribal leaders.

qb-jd/qan

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