Open Letter on closure of high schools for girls
Yesterday, 22nd March, in a sudden reversal of their prior promises, the Taliban ordered the closure of all girls’ high schools, hours after schools reopened for the first time in nearly seven months.
Women for Justice Organisation Afghanistan (WJO) along with our community of students, teachers, and, concerned citizens are demanding that the international community condemn the Taliban for these reprehensible actions. Education for women and girls is not negotiable, and, education should never be used for political purposes.
My daughter told me ‘I don’t need new clothes for the New Year but papa buy me a new uniform and please a longer one because I don’t want the Taliban to bother me’. I bought for her some new cloth. We went to a tailor shop to sew her a uniform. She tried the uniform and was very happy. She prepared to sleep early the night before and went to school with fresh mood. Then she was told to go home. Schools are closed. Since she came home, she went to bed, put the blanket over herself, and is not speaking with anyone.” J Noori, the father of a 15-year-old girl.
Yasamin Amiri of Kasirul Istefada High School was one of hundreds of teachers across the country who in the morning of 3rd of Amal was organizing students in the classes. “There were already fewer girls in attendance. I had to group girls from several grades into one class. I was preparing to do that when one of my students came to me crying. I went to the yard of the school when our Headmaster informed us that the girls above Grade 6 should go back home until the next order. I could not stand on my feet and all my body was shaking. The students were shouting, crying, some were in shock and in silence with pale colour across their faces. I did not have a response to their question why can’t they go to school? It was heartbreaking for me to see the girls who came to school with a lot of hope, were suddenly sent back home.”
3rd of Amal in Afghanistan is Education Day, celebrated on the 3rd day of the New Year in Afghanistan. It is the day when the whole country celebrates the start of the school year. Every year on this day, members of the Ministry of Education, headmasters and school administrators across the country come together at Amani High School in Kabul to ring the school bell. It is a sign that schools have started after a long winter. Every day this year is special and students meet each other with excitement after months of absence. But this year was exceptionally special. The girls had so much hope to start school after so long, and, so much uncertainty. After the pandemic, education had already been severely disrupted. Then the conflict intensified. People were displaced. Schools were repurposed as IDP camps and in few many provinces, schools were destroyed by the bombings and fighting. Many girls were permanently driven out of education just in the last few years and months. This makes education all the more important and precious, that we should preserve and fight for. After the Taliban took over, public schools for boys reopened on 18 September. Girls school remained closed for unknown reasons. Fellow citizens including students, teachers, human rights activists, journalists and citizens of the world protested the closure of girls’ school. The closure was simply unreasonable, unacceptable and unnecessary.
Yasamin said: “The Taliban took issue with the girls' school uniforms, saying that they weren't following Shariah. I am an eyewitness for three main schools - Maryam High school, Bibi Sarwari and Kasirul Istefada in Khairkhana area in Kabul. All the girls wore proper uniforms according to Shariah, as they have always done even in the former regime. The Taliban had 7 months to plan for this. To me this looks like a last- minute decision because the Taliban could not agree internally, and girls’ education now divides them ideologically.”
Taliban leaders are divided ideologically, and this is clear as their rules on girls’ education have been vague and fragmented. In late November 2021, the Taliban made a promise to the public that schools would reopen for girls in March 2022. This raised the hopes of many girls who were counting down the days to their return to school. The US Government and the international community assured the Taliban that teachers’ salaries could be covered by US and UN aid. As recent as 21 January, US Envoy Tom West reiterated this. A few days later, the Taliban Ministry of Education on 24 January and later 17 March, promised that schools would reopen for girls. Then, a meeting happened between senior Taliban leaders in Kandahar around 22 March. Though the purpose and details of the meeting is not known, it coincided with the sudden ban on girls education the same morning, as the girls were arriving to school. In place, was yet another promise that once “rules” have been developed according to so-called “Shariah law” and “Afghan values and culture”, then, the girls’ schools will be informed.
These sudden unexpected changes from the Taliban leadership shows that the Taliban are not united in their policies. They are unreliable and cannot fulfill their promises on something so basic and acceptable to all Afghans under our culture and religion. It is very disappointing that girls, who were waiting for this day for months, and, who were on their way to school were suddenly told to go back home.
“My daughter has many congenital deformities but she is very intelligent. The only hope in her life is to get an education, become a doctor and have a successful life. Right now, she needs to wear a cast to correct some of her spine deformities. She was prepared to go to school and this morning, she asked me to remove her cast - she did not want her friends to see her in the cast. But when she arrived in school, the school door was closed, and she came back home with her hopes shattered. For all of girls specially those girls who are putting so much hope in restarting schools, it was devastating, and the Taliban should be ashamed,” says S. Karimi, mother of 14-year-old schoolgirl from Zarghoona High School.
Deborah Lyons of the United Nations Mission in Afghanistan called reports of the closure “disturbing”. “If true, what could possibly be the reason?” she tweeted. Minister of Higher Education, Molawi Noorullah Munir attributed it to so-called Shariah saying, “Based on Shariah, girls will be educated until 6th grade. More than that is not necessary as they will cause immorality.” This understanding is an absolute distortion of our religion. “The first verse that was revealed to Qur'an is “Iqra”, meaning, “read”. Islam makes no distinction between men's and women's obligation to seek knowledge,” says A. Hashemi, member of WJO team. Women's education is a religious right and is central to achieving the goals of an Islamic government. Prophet Mohammad says," Seek knowledge from the cradle to the grave." If in Islam, education is central to women’s religious rights, then, the ban on girls education is un-Islamic and only part of a systematic and ideological policy to erase women and girls from society.
“What the Taliban says is not Islam. It is their own belief, based on their ruler’s ideology. It is not even part of Afghan culture, but a culture which is initiated by them. Is this Islam that because of hejab, that the rights of education are denied?” says Y. Mobasher, an educator and member of WJO team.
Indeed, women have already been removed from civil service, their clothing is now being heavily policed and they cannot move between cities without a male companion.
“When the Taliban told us that girls cannot attend classes with boys, it had to be accepted. When the Taliban prohibited us from wearing our own hejab and imposed on us a certain hejab, it had to be accepted. When the Taliban prohibited us from going out without mahram, it had to be accepted. But when the Taliban makes remarks that women are the reasons for why men are sexually provoked and that is the main reason why girls’ education should be denied, this is completely unacceptable. They are monopolizing Shariah to harm and suppress girls,” says F. Wardak, who was also teacher of a private girls school.
Today everyone in Afghanistan cried. The students, teachers, fathers, mothers, journalists, old people and young. Today was only the day of ignorance for ignorance,” says N. Ebad a student and member of WJO team.”
“Before they killed people by bombing. Now, they are killing people by fear,” says K. Hashemi, lawyer of WJO team.
“Denying girls’ education will only encourage families to force the girls into early or child marriage,” says M. Mawhizi, a student and member of WJO team.
Our country must not be allowed to become for a second time, the only nation in the world to deny women and girls their right to education. We Afghans have given so much of ourselves to come this far. We women and men together have created a foundation for a fairer and more just society. Now in our time of crisis we call upon all nations to support the empowerment of women and girls and restore education for all women and girls of all ages. It is the key to sustainable economic development and political security in our country and throughout the world.
Read our letter in Dari by clicking on the link below.