In a surprising decision, Afghanistan’s new conservative leadership decided not to open educational institutions for girls beyond the sixth grade of primary school, a Taliban official said Wednesday, on the first day of the new school year in the country.
The latest setback to female education is likely to receive widespread condemnation from the international community, which has called on the Taliban to open schools and give women their right to public space.
The unexpected decision came Tuesday night as the Afghan Education Ministry prepared for the start of the school year, when the announcement of the return of girls to the classroom was expected. Earlier in the week, the department had called in a statement for “all students to return to school.
However, the decision to delay the return of girls’ higher education appeared to be a concession to the rural and deeply tribal backbone of the conservative Taliban movement, which in many rural areas is reluctant to send its daughters to school.
In most of the country, girls have been banned from going to school beyond the sixth grade since the Taliban returned to power in mid-August. Universities opened earlier this year, but the group’s edicts have been erratic, and while a handful of provinces continued to offer education for all, most closed their educational institutions for girls and women.
In the capital, Kabul, private schools and universities have operated uninterrupted.
The religiously-influenced Taliban government fears that enrolling girls in higher education could erode its base, said Waheedullah Hashmi, a foreign affairs representative and donor to the executive.
The leadership has not decided when or how it will allow girls to return to school,” Hashmi said. While he accepted that there is majority support in urban centers for their education, much of the rural areas are opposed, especially in the Pashtun tribal regions.
In some rural areas, one brother disowns another in the city if he learns that he lets his daughters go to school, Hashim said, adding that the Taliban leadership is trying to decide how to open up female education beyond that course nationwide.
Most of the Taliban are ethnic Pashtuns. In their rapid conquest of the country last year, other ethnic groups such as the Uzbeks and northern Tajiks either joined their fight, gave them victory or decided not to fight.
We did everything the Taliban asked for in terms of Islamic dress and they promised that girls could go back to school, and now they have broken their promise,” said Mariam Naheebi, a local journalist who spoke to The Associated Press in the Afghan capital. Naheebi has protested for women’s rights and said they have not been honest with us.