Taliban’s backtracking on girls’ education, ‘deeply damaging’

Following a U-turn over re-opening girls’ secondary schools in Afghanistan on Wednesday, the UN human rights chief shared her “profound frustration and disappointment” that six months after the Taliban seized power, high school girls have yet to return to the classroom.

“The de facto authorities’ failure to adhere to commitments to reopen schools for girls above the sixth grade – in spite of repeated commitments towards girls’ education, including during my visit to Kabul two weeks ago – is deeply damaging for Afghanistan”, High Commissioner  Michelle Bachelet said in a statement.

‘Grave concern’

Although high schools were set to open their doors to girls nationwide, Taliban authorities reportedly reversed the move early on Wednesday, pending a ruling made on the uniforms they must wear.

“The denial of education violates the human rights of women and girls – beyond their equal right to education, it leaves them more exposed to violence, poverty and exploitation,” Ms. Bachelet explained.

Move jeopardizes Afghanistan’s future: Guterres

The UN Secretary-General said in a statement later in the day, that he deeply regretted the Taliban’s suspension of the return to school for high school girls.

“The start of the new school year has been anticipated by all students, girls and boys, and parents and families”, said António Guterres. He added that the Taliban move “despite repeated commitments, is a profound disappointment and deeply damaging for Afghanistan.

The denial of education not only violates the equal rights of women and girls to education, it also jeopardizes the country’s future in view of the tremendous contributions by Afghan women and girls.    

  “I urge the Taliban de facto authorities to open schools for all students without any further delay.” 

Recounting conversations

Ms. Bachelet recalled her recent visit to Kabul, where women stressed to her that they wanted to speak to the Taliban themselves.

The women told her that they have “information, solutions and the capability to help chart a way out of this economic, humanitarian and human rights crisis in Afghanistan.”

“They insisted upon the equal right to quality education at the primary, secondary and tertiary levels and were hopefully awaiting the reopening of schools today”.

‘Structural discrimination’

As Afghan citizens suffer the impacts of multiple intersecting crises, the senior UN official described the decision as being of “grave concern.”

Disempowering half of Afghanistan’s population is counterproductive and unjust,” Ms. Bachelet said, adding that “structural discrimination such as this is also deeply damaging for the country’s prospects of future recovery and development.”

She called on the Taliban to “respect all girls’ rights to education and to open schools for all students without discrimination or further delay”.

Shattered hopes

The Executive Director of the UN Children’s Fund, Catherine Russell, also issued a statement describing the decision as “a major setback for girls and their futures”.

“Millions of secondary-school girls around Afghanistan woke up hopeful today that they will be able to go back to school and resume their learning,” she said.

“It did not take long for their hopes to be shattered.”

According to Ms. Russell the decision meant that an entire generation of adolescent girls is being “denied their right to an education and…robbed of the opportunity to gain the skills they need to build their futures.”

She urged the de facto authorities to honour their commitment to girls’ education without any further delay and appealed to community leaders in every corner of the country to support the education of adolescent girls.

All children deserve to be in school. This is the surest way to put the country on a surer path toward the peace and prosperity that the people of Afghanistan deserve,” said the UNICEF chief.

Decision deplored

The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) responded to the news, by tweeting that it “deplores today’s reported announcement by the Taliban that they are further extending their indefinite ban on female students above the 6th grade being permitted to return school.”