Afghanistan: New school year starts, but not for girls in secondary school

Tuesday, March 21, was the start of the new school year in Afghanistan but despite consistent pressure from inside and outside the country, the ruling Taliban failed to reopen schools to girls above Grade 6.

Instead, the Taliban’s ministry of education announced the start of the new school year and said that primary schools for girls had reopened, with conditions.

The Taliban’s ministry said girls’ primary schools (from first to sixth grade) need to be a safe environment in which all Islamic principles are ensured and all administrative officials and teachers are women.

The ministry also stressed the need to implement new school uniforms based on “Islamic principles.”

In the past, March 21, which is the first day of the new solar year in the Persian Calender, was always a holiday. March 22, which was Farmer’s Day, had also been a holiday. March 23 would then see schools reopen for children around the country.

“We cannot have any expectation from the Taliban to reopen schools for girls,” said Negina Khalili, a university lecturer. “Taliban’s ideology consists of opposing education and especially women’s rights.”

Huma Haidari, an 11th grade student from Kabul, said she would have graduated this year if schools were open.

“When I saw the statement (on the new school year), I was so disappointed because I had a little hope that if foreigners would bring pressure on the Taliban they will allow us to return to school, but they once again showed their enmity with the women in Afghanistan,” she added.

Sangin Haidari, Huma’s father, called on the international community to put pressure on the Taliban to reopen secondary schools for girls.

“I have no idea how long we should wait. My daughter would have graduated if the schools were open. I am so disappointed. The world should look at women in Afghanistan and this government should be held accountable,” he said.

Secondary schools have been closed for girls for the past 546 days, while universities have been closed for female students since last December.

This comes as UN experts, including Special Rapporteur Richard Bennett, on Monday, called on the Taliban to immediately reopen all secondary schools and places of higher education to girls and young women.

In a statement issued by the United Nations Human Rights Office, Bennet and his colleagues also called on the international community to “intensify calls on the Taliban” to reopen schools and places of education to girls and women; to fund equal and quality education for girls and boys, if schools are reopened, and to facilitate the flow of finances to support the formal education system.

Bennet and his colleagues said that “on 22 March 2023, schools should be reopening to girls across Afghanistan. Instead, it appears that for the second successive school year teenage girls will be banned from resuming their studies – making Afghanistan the only country in the world that forbids girls and young women from attending secondary school and places of higher education.