Female Students Report Anxiety and Depression Following School Closures
By: Amin Kawa
It has been 558 days since girls have been unable to attend middle and high schools, as well as universities, due to the Taliban’s restrictions on women and girls’ basic rights and freedoms. Despite the hope that the Taliban would reopen girls’ schools this year, they have instead opened educational institutions without allowing girls. Last year, the United Nations Secretary General described this as “shameful” and the Independent Human Rights Commission of Afghanistan called the prohibition on girls’ education “shameful” and demanded that girls’ schools be quickly reopened. Additionally, 149 social activists and 25 organizations have referred to the obstruction of women’s and girls’ access to higher education as a “historical disgrace.” Female students have reported developing symptoms of mental illness such as depression due to the loss of their hopes for the future.
At the start of 2023, the Taliban’s Ministry of Education announced that schools had opened in all of Afghanistan’s cold-weather provinces, though they only permitted girls to attend primary schools.
Officials from this ministry, including Aziz Ahmad Rehan, the Taliban’s Acting Minister of Education, stated that female students were only permitted to attend school up to the sixth grade until a Sharia-based environment was established for female students and teachers.
However, the majority of female students, who had been eagerly awaiting the reopening of schools, now report suffering from mental health issues due to the Taliban’s deprivation of their access to schools and universities.
Opinion of Female Students on Taliban’s Ban on Education
Female students refer to the curriculum changes and continuing school closures as “the murderer of their ambitions.” They allege that the Taliban are allowing “extremism and ignorance” to take hold in Afghanistan by prohibiting girls’ education. The majority of the girls told Hasht-e-Subh that the Taliban have inflicted harm on the entire Afghan society by restricting females’ right to education.
Moqadas Noori, an 11th grader at one of the girls’ schools in the Badakhshan province, informed the Hasht-e-Subh that it has been two years since they last saw the face of school.
Moqadas Noori, a female high school student from Badakhshan province, informed Hasht-e-Subh that it has been almost two years since she last saw her school. She is one of the thousands of Afghan girls who are waiting for the reopening of schools, but the Taliban have not fulfilled their promise to allow girls to receive higher education. She further expressed her feelings of worthlessness and purposelessness without education, which she believes is the only thing that sets humans apart from other animals.
Moqadas also noted that Afghanistan would remain in a state of backwardness if women and girls were unable to attend schools and universities. She expressed her disappointment, saying, “First the schools were closed, then the universities. We live in a technological age and can observe how far humanity has progressed, reaching Mars and the moon. It is only us who should be striving for development. I am certain that the majority of girls suffer from depression and other mental health issues that can have dangerous consequences. I implore the Taliban leaders to address this issue and open schools and universities to girls as soon as possible in order to prevent the harm that will be done to women and society as a result of their restrictions. They must cease this practice.”
Female Teachers’ Perspectives on the Ban on Girls’ Education
In an interview with Hasht-e-Subh, Nazifa Nabi Ahmadi, a female teacher, stated that her duty is to guarantee that female students receive a quality education at all times, even in the present situation where the Taliban have forbidden girls from attending schools without taking into account their aspirations for the future. She further mentioned that the Taliban have prevented her and other female teachers from providing education to female students throughout Afghanistan.
During a conversation with Hasht-e-Subh, Sohaila, another female teacher, expressed her differing opinion on education under the rule of the Taliban. She stated, “When I reflect on the Taliban’s educational system, I believe it is better for people’s children to remain at home than to be exposed to war, bloodshed, and extremism under the Taliban’s rule. The closure of schools is a major issue for the country. Girls should be taught the Republic’s curriculum. Otherwise, there is no point in having schools and education under the Taliban’s rule.”
Taliban’s Justification for Shutting Down Female Schools
In response to the Taliban’s educational ban, the international community and national political figures expressed their disapproval of the Taliban’s oppressive educational and social regulations on women and girls. The Taliban later attempted to rationalize their educational policies towards women by separating male and female classes, altering the clothing of female students and teachers to include masks and hijabs.
The Change in Female Students and Teachers’ Attire in Classrooms
On January 1, 2022, the Taliban’s Ministry of Education announced that schools would open to girls, provided they adhered to Islamic and cultural laws in Afghanistan regarding clothing. However, a year later, there is still no information available regarding this plan, despite the fact that the clothing code for female students—a black dress and a white scarf—has been adjusted in accordance with religious principles over the past 20 years.
Following a significant public outcry regarding the closure of girls‘ schools in Afghanistan, the Taliban leaders declared that the schools would be reopened for girls, with the curriculum being altered. Previously, the Husht–e–Subh had a document stating that the Taliban had incorporated “blood and hatred“ into the curriculum; however, there is no available information regarding this alteration.
Noorullah Munir, the former Minister of Education for the Taliban, stated that cultural issues were the reasons for the closure of female schools, and that parents were concerned about their daughters leaving the home, not about girls‘ education, and Afghan culture is particularly sensitive in this regard.
Response to Girls’ Inability to Attend School
The Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission declared the closure of girls‘ schools to be “cruel and disgraceful“ on Monday, March 27th. In a statement, the Commission noted that the Taliban had effectively imprisoned millions of people in their homes by denying girls access to schools and universities.
The Independent Human Rights Commission strongly denounced the Taliban‘s mistreatment of women, which is in violation of human rights and Afghan social and cultural norms. Furthermore, they noted that the International Convention on the Rights of the Child, which has been ratified by over 200 nations, and other declarations and international agreements, make the right to education a fundamental human right.
In view of the 555th day of prohibiting females from attending schools and universities, 25 women‘s rights networks and 149 civil rights activists have referred to this as a “historical disgrace“ in the twenty–first century. The international community is urged to take “organized and bold“ actions to reopen girls‘ schools in Afghanistan, as stated by these networks and civil activists.
Global Outcry Over Closure of Afghan Girls‘ Schools and Changes to Curriculum
Since the Taliban began to impose restrictions on girls attending schools in Afghanistan, the international community, including the United Nations, has made numerous requests for the Taliban to allow girls‘ schools to reopen. The Taliban has not responded to these requests. Most recently, Richard Bennett, the United Nations Special Adviser on Human Rights for Afghanistan, and a number of other experts from this group, urged the Taliban to allow girls and women to enter schools and universities. They also urged the international community to put further pressure on the Taliban by issuing a statement.
Tom West, the United States Department of State‘s Special Envoy for Afghanistan, has advised women and girls to begin working and attending school at the commencement of the new solar year. In his Nowruz greeting, he declared: “Our primary objective is for Afghan girls and women to resume their studies and employment, as Nawroz is a time of renewal, optimism, and the start of spring.”
Despite the Taliban‘s previous statement that they would not reopen girls‘ schools, as indicated in a tweet from Thomas Nicholson, the EU Special Representative for Afghanistan, schools have been closed for 18 months, according to a paragraph of Mr. Nicholson‘s tweet. Furthermore, the Taliban government prohibited girls from entering universities in December. With regards to the reopening of schools for the following year and after Nowruz, there have been no commitments made.
All countries in the vicinity and across the globe have implored the Taliban to permit girls and women to attend schools and universities for the two years that they have been in power in Afghanistan. Nevertheless, the Taliban are resolute that females should stay at home until the conditions are fulfilled. At a meeting with Sirajuddin Haqqani, the Taliban‘s acting minister of interior, Takashi Okada, the ambassador of Japan to Afghanistan, asked that the Taliban permit girls to go to school in the upcoming academic year.
For the past two years, the Taliban leaders have been unable to reach a consensus on the right to education for girls, resulting in a serious issue of educational institutions being closed to women and girls in Afghanistan. Although some official responses have been made by this group, the spokesperson for the group denied these responses and stated that all of their members abide by their leader‘s orders.
Despite the fact that the Hasht–e–Subh had previously acquired a document showing that the Taliban had altered the content of current school textbooks to reflect their ideologies, there are 26 paragraphs in this paper that make up the Taliban‘s “Revision Committee for Modern School Curriculum“. The three most significant of these are the justification of slaughter, the rejection of democracy, and the resistance to women‘s education and independence.
Female students are of the opinion that the continued closure of schools is leading to feelings of sadness and despair among Afghan females, and is causing them to experience mental health issues.