Secondary-age girls banned as school starts in Taliban-ruled Afghanistan

Extremist group continues with restrictions called 'gender apartheid' by UN

Afghan girls walk to their school along a road in Gardez, Paktia province, on September 8, 2022. AFP
Powered by automated translation

Schools in Afghanistan opened for the new academic year on Wednesday, the Education Ministry said, with girls banned from secondary-level classes for the third year in a row.

Women and girls have been barred from education beyond Year 6 since the Taliban takeover in 2021.

Male pupils returned to classes with the start of the Afghan new year, but women and girls were left out as part of a wave of restrictions the UN has labelled “gender apartheid”.

The Taliban has severely curtailed women's access to education and employment, effectively wiping out half of its population from society.

Begum Academy provides online classes to allow women and girls who are banned to get an education.

“It's difficult to get motivated when everything is closed to you and there's no perspective of future,” Begum Academy's director Hamida Amanshe told AFP from France, where she is based.

“These girls cannot have certificates, or they cannot have the ambition to go to the university or to have any job later.”

Even home-based schooling programmes by international organisations are regularly shut down by the authorities.

Government universities also recently opened for the new academic year. Women have been blocked from attending since December 2022.

Unesco ranks Afghanistan among the world's worst places to be female, with one of the lowest literacy rates.

Education for girls and women was a key aim of the previous US-backed government, but gains were largely limited to cities, with only 23 per cent of girls aged 13 to 18 in school nationwide, according to the International Crisis Group think tank.

That figure dropped to 13 per cent after the Taliban government announced its education ban.

Alternative education methods

Since the takeover, Taliban authorities have said they are working on establishing a system that aligns with their interpretation of Islamic law.

The UN children’s agency says more than one million girls are affected by the ban.

It also estimates five million were out of education before the Taliban takeover, with a lack of schools the main reason.

Online alternatives have sprung up, but with weak internet connections, recurring power cuts and a scarcity of computers, virtual classes are a poor substitute for in-person learning, students and teachers say.

A Unesco report found that “widespread virtual schooling during the Covid-19 pandemic demonstrated it was 'at best, a rather partial substitute for in-person instruction'.”

Less than a quarter of the population uses the internet, according to online insights company DataReportal.

These alternatives cannot provide diplomas or certified qualifications that are recognised worldwide.

“We have a highly educated new generation of women and they won’t stop studying. They are trying to find new ways but it's difficult because they cannot receive formal education,” Manizha Bakhtari, former Afghanistan foreign affairs chief of staff, told The National last June.

It's unclear exactly how many girls and women are involved in online learning,

Launched in December, Begum Academy has 8,500 free videos in Dari and Pashto covering the Afghan secondary school curriculum.

Afghan girls and young women are also enrolling at madrasas in an effort to continue their education.

But experts say these religious schools, while important, cannot compensate for loss of access to secondary education.

A Unesco report last year said 2.5 million Afghan girls and young women are not in the education system – 80 per cent of the age group.

Taliban authorities have imposed a strict interpretation of Islamic law since they seized power, meaning all women must be veiled and largely excluding them from public life.

Updated: March 20, 2024, 10:03 AM