On 23 March, the Taliban’s Ministry of Education issued an announcement stating that girls’ secondary schools would remain closed until further notice. The statement is a reversal of previous commitments made by Taliban officials that it would “allow women to work and study”, despite having effectively prevented the vast majority of girls from attending secondary school in most parts of the country following the militant group’s return to power on 15 August 2021.
“Education is a universally recognised right for all children. To deny girls in Afghanistan access to secondary education is both shocking and short-sighted. Barred from education, girls are unable to develop their full potential, they are more likely to suffer poverty and poor health which in turn can affect their families and their communities. We urge the Taliban to reconsider this draconian measure and allow girls to regain their rightful place in the classroom”, says Romana Cacchioli, Executive Director of PEN International.
This deeply discriminatory policy undermines two decades of education progress in Afghanistan, which has seen girls’ enrolment in schools dramatically increase at all levels, with over 3 in 10 students in secondary education being girls in early 2021, a considerable achievement given that almost all girls were denied access to education during the Taliban’s previous reign.
The Taliban’s decision is devastating news for a generation of Afghan girls who had hoped to be able to return to school for the first time in months. Many arrived at schools across the country on Wednesday only to be told to leave just hours later after news of the Taliban’s decision had spread.
The ongoing suspension of girls’ education is just the latest example of the wide- ranging misogynistic restrictions that women and girls are subjected to under Taliban rule, with other examples including the removal of women from the public sphere, and severe violations of women and girls’ right to freedom of
expression, association and movement. The Taliban has also responded brutally to women who have peacefully called for equal rights at public rallies by targeting them with enforced disappearances and even assassination.
At a time when millions of Afghans are on the brink of starvation and poverty, the Taliban’s determined efforts to deprive women and girls of their agency and identity is a damning example of the regime’s prioritisation of intolerance and repression over the welfare of the country.
PEN International urges the Taliban to restore women and girls’ equal access to education, and to immediately end the suppression of women’s and girls’ rights.