Afghan girls protest against school closure in eastern city

Dozens of girls protest in Gardez city after the Taliban shuts four schools, which were reopened on the intervention of tribal elders and school principals.

Dozens of girls have protested in Afghanistan’s Paktia province after Taliban authorities shut their schools just days after classes resumed, agencies and local media reported, as an estimated three million secondary school girls are shut out of school for more than a year now.

The Taliban has gone back on its promise to allow women’s education and job opportunities and has since imposed curbs on women’s rights, bringing back memories of its first stint in power between 1996-2001 during which women’s education was banned and women were banished from public life.

Late last month, a senior Taliban leader told Al Jazeera that the group is working to create a so-called “safe environment” for girls and women in secondary schools and the workplace, adding that Islam grants women the right to education, work, and entrepreneurship.

Earlier this month, four girls’ schools above sixth grade in Gardez, the provincial capital, and one in the Samkani district began operating after a recommendation by tribal elders and school principals, but without formal permission from the Taliban’s Ministry of Education.

When students in Gardez went for classes on Saturday, they were told to return home, a women’s rights activist and residents told AFP.

“This morning when they did not allow the girls to enter schools, we held a protest,” activist Yasmin and an organiser of the rally, told the news agency over the phone.

Afghan women and girls took part in a protest in front of the Ministry of Education in Kabul in March [File: Ahmad Sahel Arman/AFP]

Images on social and local media, including TOLO news, show the girls dressed in their school uniforms – some in head-to-toe burqas, others in school uniforms and white veils – marching through the centre of Gardez to protest the closure.

“Why have you closed our schools? Why are you playing with our emotions?” one girl is heard saying through tears in one of the videos.

Two residents from the city also confirmed the protest, which journalists were not allowed to cover.

“The students protested peacefully, but soon the rally was dispersed by security forces,” one Gardez resident who asked not to be named told AFP.

Officials maintain the ban is just a “technical issue” and classes will resume once a curriculum based on Islamic rules is defined. A year after the Taliban took power in Afghanistan, a few public schools continue to operate in parts of the country following pressure from local leaders and families.

They remain shut in most provinces, however, including the capital Kabul, as well as Kandahar.

The Taliban has also imposed restrictions on women’s movement and required them to cover themselves from head to toe in public.

In March, they shuttered all girls’ secondary schools hours after reopening them for the first time under their rule.

Approximately three million girls are currently banned from getting secondary education in Afghanistan, according to UNICEF.

Since returning to power, the Taliban has struggled to govern as it remains diplomatically isolated. Freezing of Afghan funds worth billions of dollars by the West and the country’s exclusion from global financial institutions have largely contributed to the near collapse of the country’s aid-dependent economy.

More than half of Afghanistan’s 39 million people need humanitarian help and six million are at risk of famine, according to the UN.

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