Afghanistan’s schools reopened Tuesday for the new academic year, but no classes were held as students were unaware of the start and hundreds of thousands of teenage girls remain barred from attending class. Afghanistan is the only country in the world where girls are prohibited from going to secondary school and university.
Taliban authorities have imposed an austere interpretation of Islam since storming back to power in August 2021 after the withdrawal of the U.S.-led foreign forces that backed the previous governments during 20 years of war with the extremist group.
The Taliban education ministry made no public announcement of the reopening of schools, teachers and parents told CBS News, and as the date has long been marked in the country as the start of the new year, under the Persian tradition of Nowruz, most people assumed it was still a public holiday. The Taliban have seemingly stopped official celebrations of the holiday, but failed to notify students’ families that school would be in session.
“A letter issued by the minister of education was given to us by our principal to reopen the school today, but since no public announcement was made, no students came,” said Mohammad Osman Atayi, a teacher at the Saidal Naseri Boys High School in Kabul, as quoted by AFP.
AFP journalists toured seven schools in Kabul and saw only a few teachers and primary students arriving — but no classes were held.
“We did not send children to school in Kabul today because it’s the new year holiday,” Ranna Afzali, who worked as a TV journalist in Kabul before losing her job when the Taliban returned to power, told CBS News’ Sami Yousafzai. “In the past, the new year used to be a public holiday all over Afghanistan, but the Taliban terminated the holiday, so the schools were open but attendance was almost nil.”
Schools also reopened in provinces including Herat, Kunduz, Ghazni and Badakhshan but no lessons were held there either, AFP correspondents reported.
Tuesday’s start of the new academic year coincided with Nowruz, the Persian New Year, celebrated widely in Afghanistan before the Taliban returned to power but now unacknowledged by the country’s new rulers.
Hundreds of thousands of teenage girls meanwhile remain barred from secondary school.
“The Taliban have snatched everything away from us,” said 15-year-old Sadaf Haidari, a resident of Kabul who should have started grade 11 this year. “I am depressed and broken.”
The ban on girls’ secondary education came into effect in March last year, just hours after the education ministry reopened schools for both girls and boys.
Taliban leaders — who have also banned women from university education — have repeatedly claimed they will reopen secondary schools for girls once “conditions” have been met, from obtaining funding to remodeling the syllabus along Islamic lines.
The international community has made the right to education for women a key condition in negotiations over aid and recognition of the Taliban government.
No country has officially recognised the Taliban as Afghanistan’s legitimate rulers.
Afghanistan under the Taliban government is the “most repressive country in the world” for women’s rights, the United Nations has said. Women have been effectively squeezed out of public life, removed from most government jobs or are paid a fraction of their former salary to stay at home. They are also barred from going to parks, fairs, gyms and public baths, and must cover up in public.
In a statement released earlier this month to mark International Women’s Day, the U.N. mission to Afghanistan blasted the Taliban regime’s “singular focus on imposing rules that leave most women and girls effectively trapped in their homes.”
“It has been distressing to witness their methodical, deliberate, and systematic efforts to push Afghan women and girls out of the public sphere,” Roza Otunbayeva, special representative of the U.N. secretary-general and head of the U.N. mission to Afghanistan, said in the statement.