Girls in Afghanistan must be able to go straight back to secondary school to resume their education. Amnesty International spoke to students and teachers about threats, violence by the Taliban and the lack of development of female secondary school students in the country.
While boys have been able to return to school since September 17, the Taliban continue to claim that a “safe learning environment” is needed before girls can return to school. But more than 20 interviews conducted by Amnesty International with students, teachers and school administrators show that it is precisely the intimidation practiced by the Taliban that keeps the number of students in school low, especially among girls.
Closed doors for girls
Some secondary schools have reopened their doors to girls, such as in the capital, Kabul, and the provinces of Kunduz, Balkh and Sar-e Pul, but the vast majority in Afghanistan have closed their doors to girls.
Can I go back to school or not? This is my biggest concern,” says 14-year-old student Asma* from Kabul. I want to learn everything from the easiest to the most difficult subjects. I want to become an astronaut, engineer or architect… This is my dream… Education is not a crime If the Taliban says learning is a crime, we will commit a crime. We will not give up.
“When I heard that they were closing all schools, I felt like we were going back in time,” said Mariam*, a 17-year-old from Badakhshan. “We had so many hopes and dreams, all this is gone. I want to study medicine and become a doctor. I was ready to take my college entrance exam. I feel paralyzed now, I can’t think about the future.
Many high school girls say they have lost motivation to continue studying because the Taliban are likely to only allow women to work in certain sectors, such as education or health care.
16-year-old Khaleda* from Kabul said, “What are we going to do with education if we can’t follow our passion? I want to become a politician…I don’t want to succeed and then sit at home…Girls like me want to be leaders… We can be anything, but they won’t allow it.
Many families are afraid of the Taliban and do not dare to send their children, especially girls, to school. “There is no trust in the community,” said Zeenat*, a teacher in Samangan province. Parents fear that they will be beaten by the Taliban if they send their daughters to school.”
The poor economic situation also means that many families pick up their children from school and run them. In addition, millions of Afghans have been internally displaced due to Taliban control, and many internally displaced children do not attend school. Many teachers are also absent, in part because the Taliban have failed to pay their salaries. This has led to the partial or complete closure of many primary schools. On the other hand, universities have partially reopened, but the number of students has fallen sharply, especially the number of women.
Death threats over sports lessons
A high school teacher received death threats from two students and was summoned to appear in a local court over her sports lessons. Earlier this year, she received a letter from the Taliban. Pashtana said, “He said, ‘If the Taliban catch you, they will cut off your ears, and that will be a lesson to others in (your county)’.” I am in hiding now. Even my family thinks I left the country.
On August 18, Evat*, a 22-year-old woman, and Nived*, her 16-year-old brother, lost consciousness at the hands of two Taliban members. They said they were attacked while on their way to English lessons, which Taliban members called “the language of the infidels.”
Another secondary school teacher said she was harassed by the Taliban during an interview in which she complained about teachers’ salaries and girls’ lack of secondary education. She added that she and other teachers had been threatened with eviction from homes granted to them by the previous government.
For security reasons, the exact locations of these incidents have not been determined. Amnesty International is still investigating whether these incidents are part of a broader pattern and continues to monitor the situation.
Afghan girls are currently banned from returning to secondary school. Across the country, the rights and dreams of an entire generation of girls are being crushed,” said Agnès Callamard, Secretary General of Amnesty International. “The right to education is a fundamental human right that the Taliban – who are now de facto running the country – must uphold. The Taliban’s policy is discriminatory, unfair, and violates international law. The Taliban must immediately reopen all secondary schools for girls and stop all intimidation, threats and attacks against teachers and students.”
Amnesty is also calling on the international community to ensure adequate funding for the Afghan education sector through organizations such as the United Nations so that schools can continue to teach. If this is not done, the right to education of millions of Afghan students may be violated.
Read the full press release in English here.