Kabul, Afghanistan – Kabul resident Rahela Nussrat, 17, is in her final year of high school, but was unable to attend classes. The reason: the new Afghan rulers have decided not to send teenage girls to school for the time being.
Last month, the Taliban announced the opening of schools, but only boys of all ages have been asked to return to school, leaving out high school girls. This decision raised questions about the group’s policy regarding women’s education.
The Taliban said “a safe learning environment” was needed before older girls could return to school, adding that schools would reopen as soon as possible, “without giving a delay.
âEducation is one of the most basic human rights, but today this basic right has been taken away from me and millions of other Afghan girls,â Nussrat told Al Jazeera.
Afghanistan had struggled to get girls back to school during the West-backed government of President Ashraf Ghani. According to a 2015 survey (PDF) prepared for UNESCO by the World Education Forum, nearly 50% of Afghan schools lacked usable buildings.
More than 2.2 million Afghan girls were unable to attend school last year – 60 percent of the total out-of-school children in the country.
The Taliban’s lack of clarity on the reopening of secondary schools has compounded the problem and is a blow to millions of girls, especially those whose families believed the end of the war might return to some semblance of normal life.
“When the Afghan government fell, I lost my right to education, it was the first time I cried specifically because of my gender,” Nussrat said.
She said she still doesn’t understand the rationale for keeping only teenage girls out of education, but is sure if this continues it will only backfire on the Taliban.
“They kept saying that they wanted young people to stay and use their talents, but they are only chasing us all,” Nussrat said by phone from his home in Kabul.
Thousands of young Afghans fled the country after the Taliban returned to power on August 15, 20 years after they stepped down in a US-led military invasion.
Nussrat saw herself as an example, saying she is currently preparing for English exams so she can apply for study abroad opportunities.
As someone who managed to come from one of the country’s poorest provinces, Daikundi, where even boys drop out of school as teenagers to start working as day laborers, Nussrat said the Taliban was losing entire generations of motivated and determined young people.
âI studied for 14 years in Kabul, I did primary and secondary education during a war, but now I will have to leave the country,â she said.
“I will apply to universities abroad and another country will take me and my talents, because they know that it is not possible to study in a Taliban ruled Afghanistan.”
The Taliban’s stance on girls’ and women’s education has been criticized by Qatar and Pakistan, who have called on the international community to engage with the Taliban.
At a press conference last month, Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani said it “has been very disappointing to see steps back” by the Taliban, who over the years 1990 were the only rulers to ban women and girls. education and employment in Afghan history.
Sheikh Mohammed said Qatar, which is home to the Taliban’s political office, should be used as a model for running a Muslim society. âOur system is an Islamic system [but] we have more women than men in the workforce, in government and in higher education.
Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan said that while he doubts the Taliban will ban girls’ education outright again, the group should be reminded that Islam would never allow such a thing to happen again. .
âThe idea that women should not be educated is just not Islamic. It has nothing to do with religion, âKhan told the BBC.
Before the arrival of the Taliban, cultural traditions were the basis for some families to prevent their daughters, especially older ones, from going to school. According to UNICEF, 33% of Afghan girls are married before the age of 18.
Aisha Khurram, a law student at Kabul University, said she has little faith that the Taliban will allow Afghan women to play a meaningful role in Afghan society.
Since coming to power, the Taliban have sent mixed signals about returning women to work in government offices and forced universities to adopt policies of gender segregation in order to reopen.
Khurram, a former youth representative to the United Nations, said she saw no need to divide the sexes in Afghanistan’s first higher education institution.
âI have always known Kabul University for its inclusive and welcoming environment for female students,â she said.
Although she struggles to reconcile this with her education experiences in Afghanistan, Khurram said gender segregation should not be used as an excuse to prevent all Afghan women from going to school like the Taliban did so in the 1990s.
Other women Al Jazeera spoke to said that while the separation of men and women has received a lot of attention on social media, it shouldn’t be the focus of people who really want to see. the return of educational opportunities for men and women in Afghanistan.
Pashtana Durrani, an education advocate who focuses on bringing digital learning tools to rural areas, said that for millions of women across the country, gender separation is not so important as the foreign media and some residents of Kabul claim. to be.
âIn so many parts of the country, gender segregation is the norm. People are used to it. Even in Kabul, marriages are separated by sex, âDurrani told Al Jazeera in southern Kandahar province.
Durrani argued that for many families, gender segregation could be the key to allowing their older daughters to study at the university level, claiming that even before the Taliban takeover, girls in public universities and deprived of Kandahar wore Arab-style abayas and niqabs, “because the boys would be there.”
However, Khurram, the law student, said that although Afghan women have accepted these new segregation regulations, the Taliban have not lived up to their end of the bargain – opening schools.
âThe Taliban’s promises have yet to be proven in their actions. They have yet to accept that Afghanistan has changed, âsince the group’s brief five-year reign in the 1990s.
On Monday, the UN chief criticized the Taliban’s âbrokenâ promises to Afghan women and girls, referring to the continued closure of schools.
Durrani said what is most important for Afghan girls and women is that they can study without Taliban interference.
âAt this point, for these girls, it’s all about education. Even if they get married and have to stay home after that, they just want the diploma, the piece of paper, to show what they’ve been able to accomplish, âDurrani said of the young women she spoke to. in Kandahar.
She said even the principals she spoke to at three different schools in and around Kandahar City feared for their future, even though she said everything was in place for all the girls to return to school. ‘school.
The Taliban have ordered that only female teachers can attend high school for girls. Older teachers are only allowed when there are not enough female teachers.
Durrani and others feared that trying to stop teenage girls from going to school was just the first step towards something bigger and more dangerous.
The lack of women in the cabinet, Taliban officials passing judgment on women’s clothing and perfumes are seen as harbingers of something worse to come by many Afghan women.
âIt’s a way to break a powerful chain. First, you are preventing girls from going to school so that they do not have the skills to work, and before you know it, you have deprived an entire generation of the opportunity to be part of the company. “