An Uncertain Future for Girls in Afghanistan

On 16 August 2021, the Taliban recaptured Kabul, the capital city of Afghanistan, having met with no resistance from President Ashraf Ghani’s government or armed forces.

Older Afghan citizens remember how the militant fundamentalist group banned the education of girls and young women when it last governed the country from 1996-2001, but young girls do not. Their parents are naturally frightened, despite the initial promise made by the new Taliban government that it would not repeat the ban.

Many Afghans also remember that under the strict Sharia law enforced by the Taliban, all girls and women also had to wear veils in public and could not travel alone.

When the Taliban was forced out of power 20 years ago, international donors poured millions of dollars into girls’ education. Before the Taliban resumed power in August this year, as many as three million girls were going to school regularly. Now, the world waits to see what will happen.

Tensions ran high after the new Taliban minister of higher education, Abdul Baqi Haqqani, made a public speech in early September 2021, limiting his comments to higher education.

Haqqani said that Afghan women will be allowed to attend university, but must obey certain strictures. Female students must be taught by women wherever possible, and male and female students will attend lectures separately, even if meant the installation of a curtain down the middle of the lecture room. Girls and boys will also be segregated at primary and secondary schools.

Haqqani stated that where necessary, lectures could be delivered by men, but hijab religious veils will be mandatory for all female students. He did not specify if this meant headscarves or compulsory face coverings.

On a more ominous note, Haqqani told reporters that gender segregation would be enforced across Afghanistan and all subjects taught at colleges would also be reviewed in the coming months.

Will Afghan girls return to school?

Update: On 17 September 2021, girls and female teachers were excluded from returning to secondary school.

The Asia Times reported that at a press conference, Taliban spokesperson Zabihulla Mujahid said: ‘The work is continuing over the issues of education and work of women and girls. Instructions on how to deal with their work, their services and their education are needed because the system has changed and an Islamic system is in place.’ Mujahid added that schools for girls would reopen, without supplying a timeframe.