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Taliban abruptly closes high schools for girls in Afghanistan

Afghan school girls work on a robot at a school in Herat, Afghanistan, on July 4, 2017. High schools for girls were supposed to reopen in Afghanistan on Wednesday, but the Taliban reversed their decision to do so. File Photo by Jalil Rezayee/EPA
Afghan school girls work on a robot at a school in Herat, Afghanistan, on July 4, 2017. High schools for girls were supposed to reopen in Afghanistan on Wednesday, but the Taliban reversed their decision to do so. File Photo by Jalil Rezayee/EPA

March 23 (UPI) -- The Taliban backtracked on their promise to allow young women to get an education, closing girls high schools in Afghanistan abruptly Wednesday.

Afghanistan's Ministry of Education sent out notices saying girls over Grade 6 weren't allowed to attend school, shuttering the schools Wednesday, the day they were supposed to reopen. Some children had already shown up to school in the morning before being turned away hours later, TOLO News reported.

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Students at a school west of Kabul reacted with shock, some crying.

"We just want to be able to learn and serve our people," one student identified only as Fatima told the BBC. "What kind of country is this? What is our sin?"

The BBC reported that Taliban officials said the school closures are due to decisions that must be made about the uniforms students must wear.

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Sam Mort, UNICEF's chief of communications in Afghanistan, from Kabul told reporters during a press conference that they were essentially blindsided by the announcement.

"We are very surprised by this decision that came out in the early hours of the morning," she said, explaining UNICEF, which was not notified of the reversal, had been in touch almost every day with the de facto authorities in the weeks ahead of Wednesday's "back to school moment."

"The minister of education was surprised by it as well," she added.

Monitors informed the U.N. children's rights protection agency that of Afghanistan's 34 provinces, girls did in fact return to school in 17 of them.

But Mort said that nothing can be concluded from those numbers.

"We do not know what the picture will be tomorrow," she said.

The Taliban had less than a week ago announced it would allow girls in Grades 7 and higher to return to school, garnering praise from U.N. Secretary-General Antonio General.

But the abrupt reversal has left officials confused.

Asked what may have caused the Taliban to make such an about-face, Mort said: "It's not clear to us."

U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet called the decision a violation of human rights for women and girls.

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"Beyond their equal right to education, it leaves them more exposed to violence, poverty and exploitation," Bachelet said.

"The de facto authorities' failure to adhere to commitments to reopen schools for girls above the sixth grade -- in spite of repeated commitments towards girls' education, including during my visit to Kabul two weeks ago -- is deeply damaging for Afghanistan."

The Taliban retook control of Afghanistan in August as the United States and its allies departed the country after a 20-year war. The militant group, which have long practiced a fundamentalist form of Islam that limits the freedoms of women and girls, promised to allow women's rights under Islamic law.

Samira Hamidi, who campaigns for Amnesty International in Afghanistan, said the Taliban's decision Wednesday was not surprising.

"Many of us knew Taliban are yet again fooling around the international community. In seven months, they have not kept one promise. They do exactly the opposite of what they tell foreigners for legitimacy," she tweeted.

"With this ban, Taliban once again reconfirm that they are anti-women & girls. Until they are in power and are not hold accountable, there will be no space for women and girls. It is okay for them to see women begging but don't allow them to work."

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U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken condemned the move by the Taliban, saying "it will profoundly harm the Afghan people, the country's prospects for economic growth and the Taliban's ambition to improve their relations with the international community."

"We stand with Afghan girls and their families, who see education as a path to realizing the full potential of Afghanistan's society and economy," he said in a statement.

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