From the Taliban, an 'Unexpected Decision'

Afghanistan's de facto rulers break promise, won't open schools to girls above 6th grade
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Mar 23, 2022 7:48 AM CDT
Taliban Nixes Major Promise on Girls' Education
Afghan girls participate in a lesson at Tajrobawai Girls High School in Herat, Afghanistan on Nov. 25, 2021.   (AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris, File)

Afghanistan's Taliban rulers decided against opening schools to girls above the sixth grade, reneging on a previous promise and opting to appease their hardline base at the expense of further alienating the international community. The unexpected decision, confirmed by a Taliban official Wednesday, came at the start of the new school year in Afghanistan. It's bound to disrupt Taliban efforts to win recognition from potential international donors, at a time when the country is mired in a worsening humanitarian crisis. The international community has been urging Taliban leaders to open schools and give women their right to public space. A statement by the country's Education Ministry earlier in the week urged "all students" to come to school.

The decision to postpone a return of girls going to school in higher levels appeared to be a concession to the rural and deeply tribal backbone of the hard-line Taliban movement, which in many parts of the countryside is reluctant to send their daughters to school. The decision to cancel the return of girls to school came late Tuesday, Taliban rep Waheedullah Hashmi told the AP. "It was late last night that we received word from our leadership that schools will stay closed for girls," said Hashmi, adding, "We don't say they will be closed forever." He conceded, however, that "leadership hasn't decided when or how they will allow girls to return."

There have been persistent reports since the Taliban swept to power in August of differences among the senior leadership, with the more hard-line among the movement at odds with the pragmatists among them. The pragmatists reportedly want to see a greater engagement with the world and, while staying true to their Islamic beliefs, be less harsh than when they last ruled Afghanistan, banning women from work and girls from schools. Television is allowed in Afghanistan today, unlike in the past, and women aren't required to wear the all-encompassing burqa, but they must wear the traditional hijab, covering their heads. Women have also returned to work in the health and education ministries and at Kabul International Airport at passport control and customs. Girls, however, have been banned from school beyond the sixth grade in most of the country since the Taliban's return.

Universities opened up earlier this year in much of the country, but since taking power, the Taliban edicts have been erratic, and while a handful of provinces continued to provide education to all, most provinces closed educational institutions for girls and women. In the capital of Kabul, private schools and universities have operated uninterrupted. The religiously-driven Taliban administration fears that enrolling girls beyond sixth grade could alienate their rural base, said Hashmi. Mariam Naheebi, a local journalist who has protested for women's rights, spoke to the AP in Kabul about the move. "We did everything the Taliban asked in terms of Islamic dress," Naheebi said. "They promised that girls could go to school and now they have broken their promise. They have not been honest with us."

(Read more Taliban stories.)

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