UN says Taliban's year-long closure of girls' high schools is shameful

Head of mission in Afganistan calls for decision to be reversed

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The United Nations on Sunday called for Afghanistan’s Taliban rulers to reverse their “shameful” closure of girls' secondary schools since they seized power last year.

The denial of education to girls in grades 7-12, together with other restrictions on basic freedoms, would deepen the country’s economic crisis by creating greater insecurity, poverty and isolation, the UN said on the first anniversary of the Taliban's decision.

“This is a tragic, shameful, and entirely avoidable anniversary,” said Markus Potzel, acting head of the UN mission in Afghanistan.

The Taliban reopened schools for boys on September 18 last year, a little over a month after toppling the western-backed government in Kabul as US and Nato forces withdrew from the country. The hardliners allowed girls in primary school and female university students to return to class, but reneged on assurances that they would also reopen secondary schools for girls in grades 7 to 12.

The UN estimates that the decision has affected more than a million girls, mostly between the ages of 12 and 18.

“The ongoing exclusion of girls from high school has no credible justification and has no parallel anywhere in the world. It is profoundly damaging to a generation of girls and to the future of Afghanistan itself,” said Mr Potzel, who is also the UN secretary general’s deputy special representative for Afghanistan.

To mark Sunday's anniversary, 50 girls wrote a letter titled “A Year of Darkness: A Letter from Afghan girls to heads of Muslim countries and other world leaders”. The girls are from the capital Kabul, eastern Nangarhar province and northern Parwan province.

“The past year, we have been denied human rights, such as the right to attain an education, the privilege to work, the liberty to live with dignity, freedom, mobility and speech, and the right to determine and decide for ourselves,” Azadi, 18, an 11th-grade pupil from Kabul, wrote in the letter.

The girls named in the letter gave only their first names.

The UN said the denial of education violated the most fundamental rights of girls and women, and increased the risk of marginalisation, violence, exploitation and abuse against girls.

The UN also called upon the Taliban to reverse other restrictions imposed on Afghan women and girls, such as the ability to work and to travel without a male guardian.

The Taliban have struggled to govern amid international isolation and a freeze on Afghan funds held overseas. An economic downturn has driven millions more Afghans into poverty and hunger as the flow of foreign aid has slowed to a trickle.

— With reporting from AP

Updated: September 18, 2022, 10:31 AM
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