Photo: Social Media

New School Year Starts in Afghanistan, But not for Girls

KABUL, AFGHANISTAN – The Taliban started the new academic year in Afghanistan, but without girls, marking the third year of their ban on girls attending classes beyond the sixth grade in the country.

In a statement released on the occasion of the new academic year, the Taliban Ministry of Education said it is committed to providing equal educational services to all parts of the country. However, it asked all students and teachers to refrain from wearing clothing that contradicts Islamic laws.

The ministry marked the start of the new academic year with a ceremony in Kabul, which was attended by Taliban authorities and journalists. However, female journalists were not permitted to participate in the ceremony. The ministry stated, “Due to the lack of suitable place for our sisters, we apologise to female reporters.”

The beginning of the new calendar year in Afghanistan coincided with the 1403 New Year and Nawroz festivities. Previously, the former government officially celebrated Nawroz as a traditional ceremony. However, the Taliban has ruled out its official celebrations.

While the new academic year kicks off in Afghanistan, it has been three years since the ruling regime in the country prohibited women and girls from attending schools beyond the sixth grade and university, thus making Afghanistan the only country on earth with a ban on female education and work.

Despite initially promising a more moderate rule, the group has also barred women from public spaces like parks, and most jobs as part of harsh measures imposed after they took over following the withdrawal of U.S. and NATO forces from the country in August 2021.

Although boys have been allowed to attend school and universities, Human Rights Watch (HRW) revealed last year that the Taliban’s abusive educational policies undermine access to education for all children and young adults.

The HRW report identified an increase in the use of corporal punishment, a lack of qualified teachers, and regressive curriculum changes as factors undermining the overall quality of an education system that was already deemed highly ineffective before the regime came to power in the country.

While the Taliban have faced global condemnation for their ban on girls and women from secondary school and university, HRW pointed out that there has been less focus on the significant harm inflicted on boys’ education.

In addition to revamping the curriculum in public schools, the Taliban continue to build a wide network of religious schools, Madrasas, some of which specifically train Jihadi fighters. Last year, the Taliban’s supreme leader ordered the construction of hundreds of new religious schools across all provinces. Additionally, he ordered the creation of 100,000 new teaching positions for these schools.

Meanwhile, regarding the Taliban’s deprivation of women and girls from education, Vedant Patel, the deputy spokesman for the US Department of State, expressed in a press briefing on Tuesday that it is “heartbreaking and troubling.”

Mr. Patel further emphasized that while the Taliban seeks international recognition, ensuring women’s rights remains the highest priority in Washington’s policies concerning Afghanistan.

The UN mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) has also urged the Taliban to end this “unjustifiable and detrimental” ban, emphasizing that education for all is crucial for peace and prosperity.

In a social media post on Wednesday, UNAMA stated, “As Afghanistan’s new school year begins, it is now more than 900 days since girls aged 12+ have been barred from attending school & university.”