Tribune. On March 23, Taliban authorities abruptly ordered the closure of middle and high schools for girls in Afghanistan, just hours after they were due to reopen for months. Tens of thousands of young girls were prevented from entering and sent home. The images of their tears, their disappointment, their helplessness, but also their courage when some of them spontaneously demonstrated to demand the reopening of the schools are burned into our minds to this day.
The demand for a right to education for these young women is nothing more than a right to a future that escapes the restrictions on freedoms, violence and fears that the Islamist Taliban authorities want to impose on them. Education conditions their ability to express themselves, to take care of themselves, to meet their needs, that is, to live simply with dignity, without being forced to remain silent in order to survive. This decision is the prelude to a new wave of restrictions on women’s rights in many areas.
Even before this closure, the situation of female students in the country left no illusions about the reality of the Taliban authorities’ intentions regarding women’s education. Even if the admission of women under strict conditions (Nikab requirement and co-education ban) seems to remain possible in the country’s approximately one hundred private universities, only a few dozen female students have been allowed to return to the public space since February. Universities in only six of the country’s thirty provinces, still separated from students, wearing a niqab and guarded by armed men.
A step backwards from the situation before 1996
However, Unesco had recently underscored the reality of educational progress in the country since 2001. If only every second child of school age in the country is enrolled in school, the literacy rate there has almost doubled from 17% to 30% in twenty years. And the number of teachers has increased by 58%.
While almost no girls attended primary school in 2001, four out of ten primary school students were girls in 2021. The number of women entering higher education has increased from about 5,000 in 2001 to 90,000 in 2018. It is this fragile educational advance that makes the decision the Taliban is now at risk.
In fact, the decision of March 23 is nothing more than a return to a blanket ban on women’s education, which the Taliban had already imposed in the country between 1996 and 2001 with vague promises in hopes of help and recognition. The myth of a more human-faced religious fundamentalism that the Taliban professed to embody in the eyes of the world has collapsed.
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