Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Thousands of Afghan girls return to school



Thousands of Afghan girls return to school

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
School girl Raihana (left) studies next to her brother Abdul at a home in Kunduz province. The reopening of secondary schools for girls across Afghanistan on Wednesday has triggered joy and apprehension for tens of thousands of students. AFP

Thousands of Afghan girls return to school

Tens of thousands of girls were due to return to secondary school across Afghanistan on March 23, more than seven months after the Taliban seized power and imposed harsh restrictions on the rights of women to be educated.

All schools were closed because of the Covid-19 pandemic when the Taliban took over in August – but only boys and some younger girls were allowed to resume classes two months later.

The international community has made the right to education for all a sticking point in negotiations over aid and recognition, with several nations and organisations offering to pay teachers.

The education ministry said schools would reopen on March 23 across several provinces – including the capital Kabul – but those in the southern region of Kandahar, the Taliban’s spiritual heartland, will not open until next month.

No reason was given.

The ministry said reopening the schools was always a government objective and the Taliban were not bowing to pressure.

“We are not reopening the schools to make the international community happy, nor are we doing it to gain recognition from the world,” said Aziz Ahmad Rayan, a ministry spokesman.

“We are doing it as part of our responsibility to provide education and other facilities to our students,” he said.

The Taliban had insisted they wanted to ensure schools for girls aged 12 to 19 were segregated and would operate according to Islamic principles.

Some pupils said they couldn’t wait to get back – even if it meant covering up according to a strict Taliban dress code.

“We are behind in our studies already,” said Raihana Azizi, 17, as she prepared to attend class dressed in a black abaya, headscarf and veil over her face.

The Taliban have imposed a slew of restrictions on women, effectively banning them from many government jobs, policing what they wear and preventing them from travelling outside of their cities alone.

They have also detained several women’s rights activists.

Despite the schools reopening, barriers to girls returning to education remain, with many families suspicious of the Taliban and reluctant to allow their daughters outside.

Others see little point in girls learning at all.

“Those girls who have finished their education have ended up sitting at home and their future is uncertain,” said Heela Haya, 20, from Kandahar, who has decided to quit school.

“What will be our future?”

It is common for Afghan pupils to miss chunks of the school year as a result of poverty or conflict, and some continue lessons well into their late teens or early twenties.

Human Rights Watch also questioned the motivation for girls to study.

“Why would you and your family make huge sacrifices for you to study if you can never have the career you dreamed of?” asked Sahar Fetrat, an assistant researcher with the group.

The education ministry acknowledged authorities faced a shortage of teachers – with many among the tens of thousands of people who fled the country as the Taliban swept to power.

“We need thousands of teachers and to solve this problem we are trying to hire new teachers on a temporary basis,” the spokesman said.

MOST VIEWED

  • Ice cream, noodles flagged over carcinogen

    The General Department of Customs and Excise of Cambodia (GDCE) has identified three types of instant noodles and ice cream trademarks originating from Thailand, Vietnam and France that are suspected to contain ethylene oxide, which poses a cancer risk to consumers. The general department has

  • Angkor lifetime pass, special Siem Reap travel offers planned

    The Ministry of Tourism plans to introduce a convenient, single lifetime pass for foreign travellers to visit Angkor Archaeological Park and potentially other areas. The move is designed to stimulate tourism to the culturally rich province of Siem Reap as the start of the “Visit

  • Exclusive interview with Josep Borrell Fontelles, High Representative of the EU

    CAMBODIA is hosting the 55th ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Meeting (AMM) and Related Meetings this week with top officials from the US, China, and Russia and other countries in the region slated to attend and to meet with face-to-face with their counterparts on the sidelines. In

  • Rise in Thai air routes to Siem Reap fuels travel hopes

    Local tourism industry players are eager for regional airline Bangkok Airways Pcl’s resumption of direct flight services between the Thai capital and Siem Reap town on August 1 – home of Cambodia’s awe-inspiring Angkor Archaeological Park – which is expected to boost the growth rate of

  • ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ meet commences, Taiwan issue possibly on table

    The 55th ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Meeting (AMM) and related meetings hosted by Cambodia kicks off in Phnom Penh on August 3, with progress, challenges, and the way forward for the ASEAN Community-building on the table. Issues on Taiwan, sparked by the visit of US House Speaker

  • Recap of this year’s ASEAN FM meet and look ahead

    This year’s edition of the ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Meeting (AMM) hosted by Cambodia comes against the backdrop of heightened global tensions and increasing rivalry between major powers that have been compared to the animosity of the Cold War era. The following is The Post’