620 Days of Home Confinement: Taliban Say Reopening Conditions Are Still Unfavorable

By: Amin Kawa

It has been approximately 21 months since girls’ schools above the sixth grade were closed in Afghanistan. Despite repeated promises from the Taliban to reopen these schools, they have recently declared that the conditions for reopening secondary and high schools for girls are not favorable. The reasons given by the Taliban for keeping the girls’ schools closed include the enforcement of hijab, cultural considerations, and curriculum changes. However, many citizens of the country find the Taliban’s justifications contradictory to religious and cultural values. Women protesters argue that the Taliban are using the closure of girls’ schools as a means of pressuring the international community. The United Nations Special Rapporteur on Human Rights has also expressed the view that women should not be used as tools for political objectives and discussions. Meanwhile, civil activists perceive the teaching of Taliban ideology as a reinforcement of fundamentalism and the promotion of extremism. Previously, Hasht-e Subh Daily obtained information suggesting that the Taliban leader has permanently sealed the gates of girls’ schools.

Following the collapse of the Republic regime on August 15, 2021, the Taliban declared the continued closure of girls’ schools until further notice. It has now been 620 days since this announcement, and girls are still awaiting the reopening of schools. Initially, the group expressed their intention to reopen girls’ schools per “Islamic and traditional Afghan laws,” specifically addressing the dress code for female students and teachers. However, they later stated that girls would remain at home until changes were made to the curriculum. The Taliban attributed the prolonged closure of girls’ schools to a cultural matter, which sparked strong reactions from the citizens.

The reasons for the Taliban and its rejection by citizens

The Taliban has stated that the dress code of female students, curriculum changes, and cultural issues are the primary reasons for keeping secondary and high schools closed for girls. However, these reasons have encountered widespread opposition from the country’s citizens. Many citizens view the Taliban’s stated reasons as contradictory to the religious and cultural values of the country. They argue that there is no justification for maintaining the blockade on girls’ schools. According to the citizens, the Taliban is using education as a means to engage and exert pressure on the international community.

Jahed Naseeri, a resident of Kabul province, expressed to Hasht-e Subh Daily that the Taliban, as an insurgent group, possesses its characteristics and beliefs. He emphasized that they should not impose their extremist beliefs as the prevailing culture of the majority. He further states, “Over the past 20 years, the Taliban have exploited people’s religious sentiments. People are not solely defined by being Mullahs or the Taliban. Why weren’t there cultural issues when millions of girls were attending school during that time? These excuses hold no weight.”

Laila Bakhtari, a teacher who left Afghanistan due to Taliban pressures, highlights the situation. She emphasizes, “Girls’ schools operated separately, catering to families who valued religion and tradition. The schools had a uniform dress code with hijab, strictly enforced to ensure all girls adhered to Islamic values and appeared well-dressed. The curriculum itself was deeply rooted in Islamic teachings, respecting all Islamic values. The excuses made by the Taliban are baseless. From the Taliban’s perspective, women are reduced to mere objects, devoid of rights, and treated as sexual slaves. A ‘good’ woman is expected to become a Taliban member’s second, third, or fourth wife. It is evident that illiteracy in women only reinforces their obedience to the Taliban and similar groups.”

School Closures and Acceptance of Forced Marriages

The Taliban’s ban has deprived many girls of education, pushing them into underage and forced marriages due to poverty, destitution, and societal pressures. Simultaneously, girls facing educational restrictions describe the consequences of their confined lives, including unemployment and enduring hardships, which have resulted in psychological and emotional problems. They express that prolonged home confinement has trapped them in thoughts of death. Over the past two years, several female students have tragically taken their own lives as a result of the mental distress caused by continuous confinement.

Shakila (pseudonym), a tenth-grade student who used to attend school before the Taliban closed girls’ schools, expresses her disappointment as her family has repeatedly pressured her into unwanted marriages during the past 20 months. Despite her persistent efforts to change her parents’ mindset, she eventually succumbed to their pressure and became engaged to a boy from her close relatives. Shakila reflects, “If the schools were open, my father would have allowed me to study. However, now he cites uncertainty regarding the Taliban’s duration and school closures. He believes it’s inappropriate for a mature single girl to remain in his home under these circumstances. He advises me to accept my fate and get married, assuring me that if the schools reopen, my husband will support my education.”

Shakila further explains, “Due to my father’s inability to work and support us financially, I was compelled to agree to this engagement under the promise of future education. However, it is important to note that I never willingly consented to this marriage. I am only going along with it because of the pressure and coercion I face. I am seriously considering canceling this engagement.”

The number of girls forced into underage and forced marriages, depriving them of education, is immeasurable. However, the majority remain silent due to unfavorable living and security conditions, enduring the burdens of life with patience. Mahtab (pseudonym) is one such student who has managed to share her story through great effort. She reveals, “I had no alternatives. Faced with the choice between immediate death and a gradual demise, I chose the latter, hoping for a day when I can pursue my dreams. If the schools were open, it would eliminate any excuse for my family to impose marriage on me. With my father’s illness and my mother’s inability to work, our family faces immense financial pressure. I found myself in a situation where surrender was the only option. There are many things I wish to express, but I am unable to. I still question whether speaking up will ease our pain or alleviate our misfortune. Therefore, silence seems preferable.”

Education with Taliban Impositions and the Expansion of Fundamentalism

The change in the educational curriculum is one of the factors behind the Taliban’s obstruction of girls’ schools. The group’s leaders have declared that the reopening of these schools is contingent upon curriculum modifications. Nonetheless, certain education activists argue that adopting the Taliban’s educational standards fosters fundamentalism within Afghanistan. They believe that girls who remain illiterate fare better than those exposed to education influenced by Taliban ideology.

According to Wida Saghary, a civil activist and teacher at a government secondary school in Australia, the curriculum imposed by the Taliban on girls stifles their potential and perpetuates gender inequality. She argues that this curriculum restricts girls to Arabic language education, domestic duties, sexual subjugation, and an identity resembling that of a slave. By examining this curriculum, Saghary reveals a bleak future in which women are submissive, oppressed, and carry the burden of ignorance, injustice, and regression.

Mrs. Saghary further explains, “The establishment of an educational system rests upon three pillars: defining the educational framework, having qualified personnel for management and planning, and possessing financial capacity, as education and foundational teachings come at a significant cost. The Taliban lacks all three pillars necessary for initiating a comprehensive public education system. They do not have a clear concept of an educational system, nor do they possess an adequate number of qualified teachers, administrators, or officials. Furthermore, they lack the financial resources required for the substantial expenses involved in education. The Taliban’s interpretation of Sharia law also imposes additional costs and demands on resources. For example, strictly segregated girls’ schools would necessitate thousands of female teachers, yet the Taliban has closed universities and teacher training institutions.”

Repeated Promises and Taliban’s Request for Non-Interference

In their latest report, Richard Bennett and Dr. Dorothy Estrada highlight that the reopening of girls’ schools in Afghanistan lacks a specific timeline. The Taliban, while assuring these senior human rights experts from the United Nations, stated that women can work separately from men following Sharia law. However, they have not specified a timeline and emphasized that the international community should refrain from interfering in their affairs.

In the last 21 months, the Taliban’s restrictions have gone beyond closing girls’ schools, as they have also denied women and girls their right to education. Currently, girls can only attend schools up to the sixth grade, while higher education is inaccessible to them, confining them to their homes. Along with education, the Taliban has stripped women of their rights to work, travel, and engage in society. Despite significant domestic and international pressure, the Taliban remains steadfast in upholding these prohibitions.

Throughout this period, women, girls, human rights organizations, civil activists, and a majority of the country’s residents have repeatedly protested against the closure of girls’ schools. However, the Taliban persists in claiming that they will reopen schools when conditions allow. Recently, the Minister of Education from the Taliban addressed the issue in Panjshir province, stating that the conditions for reopening schools are still deemed unsuitable. He further mentioned that the final decision on reopening schools will be entrusted to religious scholars who will consider Islamic values. The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) criticized the Taliban’s ongoing restrictions against women in its recent report, emphasizing that their discriminatory and unlawful actions persist.