UN says Taliban easing restrictions on secondary school for girls

International observers fear the militant movement will reverse 20 years of gains for girls' education

Girls in Afghanistan will be allowed to attend secondary school, a UN official has said, following discussions with a top Taliban official.

In September, the militant group – which swept to power in August following the sudden collapse of the internationally-backed government in Kabul, said that only boys could attend when schools reopened.

Education gains of the past two decades must be strengthened and not rolled back
Omar Abdi, Unicef

This raised fears that the Taliban would be returning to their draconian Islamist governance model, practised during their rule of Afghanistan between 1996 and 2001.

But the group has shifted position amid mounting international pressure.

Five out of 34 provinces in Afghanistan are already accepting girls to attend secondary school, Omar Abdi, deputy director of UN children’s fund Unicef, told journalists.

“As I speak to you today, millions of girls of secondary school age are missing out on education for the 27th consecutive day. We are urging them not to wait. Any day that we wait, it’s a day lost for those girls that are out of school,” Mr Abdi said.

Mr Abdi said the provinces where girls are accepted in secondary school were Balkh, Jawzjan, Samangan and Kunduz in the north and Urozgan, further south.

He said the Taliban’s education minister told him they were working on “a framework” to allow all girls to continue their schooling beyond the sixth grade, which should be published in “a month and two”.

Since their August 15 takeover of Afghanistan – as US and Nato forces were in the final stages of their chaotic withdrawal from the country after 20 years – the Taliban have come under increasing international pressure to ensure women’s rights to education and work.

Mr Abdi said that in every meeting he pressed the Taliban “to let girls resume their learning”, calling it “critical for the girls themselves and for the country as a whole”.

When the Taliban were ousted from power in 2001 by a US-led coalition for harbouring Osama bin Laden, only one million Afghan children were in school, he said.

Over the past 20 years, that figure had risen to almost 10 million – including four million girls, Mr Abdi said. In the past decade the number of schools tripled from 6,000 to 18,000.

“Education gains of the past two decades must be strengthened and not rolled back,” he said.

Updated: October 16, 2021, 7:13 PM