Afghan Girls Contemplate a Future Without Schools

Since the Taliban broke their promise to open schools for girls starting in sixth grade, it has been almost a week. International condemnation of Taliban’s U-turn has been harsh. Teenage girls protested in the Afghan capital demanding education.

Many thousands of girls aged between 14 and 18 from Afghanistan returned to school on March 23, with backpacks full, books under their armpits, after more than 180 days. However, they were denied entry. The viral videos of Afghan schoolgirls wailing in front of schools went viral. A Tolo Channel male presenter struggled to contain his emotions when discussing the subject.

Continue reading: What Afghanistan’s Women Stand to Lose

Following the election of the Taliban to power, most 12 year-old girls were forbidden from going to school. In the Persian New Year or later, Taliban officials had said they would be able to return to school. Nowruz.

Women’s rights campaigners say the ban on girls’ education will only exacerbate Afghanistan’s dire economic situation. UNICEF reports that over 1 million children younger than 5 years old are malnourished. More than half of the country’s population, some 24 million Afghans, are in need of “vital” humanitarian aid, according to the U.N.’s refugee agency.

The Taliban’s reversal on schools, seen as a bid to appease hard-liners within its ranks, will likely disrupt its efforts to win recognition from international donors. (Given the humanitarian crisis, the U.N. agreed to pay the salaries of school teachers—though that did not seem to be enough to convince the Taliban to keep to its word.)

Continue reading: Zahra Joya Fade the Taliban. She’s Still Telling the Stories of Afghan Women

Taliban education decrees are not always implemented. They have also been inconsistent. Although universities are available in the majority of the country, they do not offer equal access to men and women. Classes have been separated by gender. Private girls’ high schools in Kabul have been permitted to continue operating.

“We don’t say [schools] will be closed forever,” Waheedullah Hashmi, external relations and donor representative with the Taliban-led administration, told the Associated PressApril 24,

The sudden reversal on girls’ education comes amid a slew of new measures by the Taliban that further restricts women’s rights across the country—and echo prohibitions from the last time the group ruled, in the 1990s. On March 27, the group issued an edict on leisure time, enforcing gender segregation in public places such as parks—meaning families could no longer picnic together. Also, women are prohibited from travelling without an authorization. mahramA male relative.

TIME interviewed six girls and women affected by the slide in education funding across the nation. TIME asked many of the featured women to keep their names confidential for security purposes. Others requested anonymity.

Marjan, 11, Kabul

Marjan is a sixth grader and legally permitted to go to school. Girls education stops after grade 7. In solidarity with her older sisters, she decided to remain at home. One day, her dream is to become a physician.

“I am terrified and sad. I’m not sure why the Taliban refused to allow my sisters to study. Does knowledge constitute a sin?

Next, what? Do I have to start school right away? Or is there nothing after sixth grade?”

Sawa, 16, Mazar-i-Sharif

Sawa is a feminist who comes from an educated family. Both her parents went to university. The family hails originally from Kunduz, north Pakistan. They fled Taliban violence in 2015 to relocate to Mazar-i-Sharif.

“A little bit of me has died each day since the Taliban said we cannot go back to school. My heart is broken and I can’t sleep at night. The Taliban’s actions are evil, stupid, and inhuman.

These leaders put their interests above ours. The Taliban have begun to eliminate us from the society. I ask world leaders, ‘If you let us down this time, you will let millions down. Would you stay silent if the same thing happened to your daughters?’”

Zarghuna*, 18, Samangan

Zarghuna, her name has been changed. Zarghuna graduated from Samangan’s northern high school and hopes to soon start university. If they weren’t already studying at the time of the Taliban taking over, women from her province were denied entry to university.

Zarghuna assisted her younger sisters in getting dressed for school on March 23.

“We were all so happy that day and sent them off to school. The calls began to pour in. Each one said, ‘They won’t let us in and we don’t know what to do.’ Even my two brothers, in second and ninth grade, were in shock. They told me ‘Our poor sisters are not allowed to enter their classrooms’.

You can clearly see women from other Muslim nations, such as Pakistan or Iraq, being able to learn. But for some reason we are the only nation in the world where girls are gradually being denied an education.”

Aziza, 22, Kunduz

Aziza is currently pursuing her psychology education at university in Kunduz in northern Pakistan. There, she will be studying under local Taliban officials. However, she is unsure how she will be able to teach after graduation. mahramAs her father is deceased, she will need a chaperone male relative. This rule is enforced by local Taliban officials in her province.

“[My family]I was one of the many millions that sacrificed, saved and worked hard to send my daughters to school. Now I don’t know if I will ever be able to repay them for what they did for me all these years. I’ve seen fathers work so hard in order to send their boys and girls to school and make something of themselves, to not be dependent on others. Now that’s all gone.

Taliban warn that we’ll be bad behaved if our education goes beyond the sixth grade. Look at me, I’m 22, I completed my studies and I’m in college. Have I become ill-mannered? Are my morals ruined by the study? It’s all so preposterous and idiotic.

Peace talks by the Taliban, America and the international community are killing dreams and souls. All nations must take immediate action to pressure the Taliban into opening schools. Everything we have worked so hard for will be lost if we don’t stop the Taliban immediately. In a single day these people set us back 20 years.”

Pari*, 23, Laghman

Pari (whose name was changed) is an elementary school teacher from the eastern province Laghman. Pari was thrilled to see her older sister return to school. Elle was to begin the ninth grade in March, 233. Pari, however, had to wipe her tears.

“My sister kept saying over and over again, ‘What will my future be? What will become of me?’ Elders in the province have been meeting with the Taliban to urge them to reopen the schools, but so far there has been no progress. People here can’t do anything, we’re just trying to survive. Pressure must come from outside. [The international community] has to sit with the Taliban and make them change their ways, that’s the only thing that will help.”

Motarma, 60, Mazar-i-Sharif

Motarma, a self-proclaimed illiterate has attempted to console her daughters. Both the girls had been selected to move on to the sixth grade and tenth.

“I never wanted my granddaughters to go through what I did. I know the pain of illiteracy, and now I’m afraid that they, too, will have to go into a world where they can’t even read the signs outside a doctor’s office.

As I consider other women in my generation, I see how their families support them. All I can think is, ‘How is it that I can’t even manage the most basic things, but these women were able to work and provide for their families?’

The way that the Taliban hurt the teenage girls in Afghanistan on Wednesday made it clear that the Taliban’s Islamic Emirate does not see women in Afghanistan as whole human beings who possess hopes and dreams of their own.

“[The Taliban] just see women for their marriage potential and that’s it, nothing else. They have no other value beyond marriage.”

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