Afghanistan: UN calls on Taliban to reopen girls’ schools closed for a year

The United Nations has again called on Taliban authorities to take “urgent action” to reopen secondary schools to girls in Afghanistan, calling their year-long closure “shameful” and “unparalleled anywhere in the world”. “Sunday marks a year of exclusion for girls from secondary school in Afghanistan. A year of lost knowledge and opportunities they will never regain. Girls belong in school. The Taliban must let them back “, tweeted UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres.

When they came to power in the summer of 2021, the Taliban banned secondary schools for young girls. On March 23, the attempt to reopen the doors of colleges and high schools to them had lasted only a few hours. The same day, the Taliban had turned around and announced their closure again, to the dismay of thousands of girls who had returned home in tears.

The Taliban have since argued that the ban was only linked to a “technical problem” and that classes would resume once a program, based on Islamic precepts, had been defined.

“Shameful Birthday”

“It has been a dark year, a year full of stress and disappointment,” testified an 18-year-old student, on condition of anonymity, interviewed by AFP. “Society needs female doctors and teachers, boys alone cannot meet all the needs of society,” said the young woman. According to the United Nations, “more than a million girls” mainly between the ages of 12 and 18 have been prevented from going to school during the past year, which is not the case for boys for whom schools have reopened on September 18.

“This is a tragic, shameful and entirely avoidable anniversary,” Markus Potzel, acting head of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (Manua), said in a statement on Sunday. “The continued exclusion of girls from secondary school has no credible justification and has no equivalent anywhere in the world. It is deeply damaging to a generation of girls and to the future of Afghanistan,” he added.

Operating risk

“The denial of education violates the most fundamental rights of girls and women. It increases the risk of marginalization, violence, exploitation and abuse…”, insists the Manua press release.

“It is the responsibility of the Taliban to create conditions conducive to peace, inclusion, security, human rights and economic recovery. The international community remains ready to support a government that is representative of the whole population and respecting their rights,” he concludes.

Last month, the authorities announced the introduction of additional compulsory courses dedicated to religion in public universities. The Minister of Education, quoted by local media, also claimed that secondary schools had been closed for girls because “many people in rural areas did not want teenage girls to go to school”. Parents and families across Afghanistan are eager to educate their daughters, a teacher interviewed by AFP on Sunday contradicted this.

“They want their daughters to achieve their goals, every family wants their children, including daughters, to serve the nation,” insisted the teacher, who did not want to give her name for fear of reprisals.

Since their return to power, the Taliban have imposed very strict rules on the conduct of women, especially in public life. In addition to closing secondary schools, Islamist fundamentalists have barred women from many government jobs. They also ordered them to cover themselves fully in public, ideally with a burqa.

Afghanistan: UN calls on Taliban to reopen girls’ schools closed for a year