Afghan province reopens girls’ high school without official approval: report

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Authorities in a province in eastern Afghanistan have reopened high schools for girls even though the decision has not been officially approved.

“Schools opened a few days ago. The rules regarding Islam, culture and customs are respected. The director of schools has asked the students to return to school and the girls’ high schools are open,” said said Mawlawi Khaliqyar Ahmadzai, director of Paktia. province’s culture and information department, told Reuters.

The Taliban took control of Afghanistan as the US military completely withdrew its troops in August 2021. The group pledged to protect women’s rights “within the bounds of Islam”, which raised questions about the rights that women would still enjoy in the new emirate. The international community quickly realized that the list would remain very short.

The UN Security Council has urged the Taliban to “quickly reverse” policies and practices towards Afghan women and girls, who have been banned from secondary education, which The Guardian newspaper says is just in short of an outright ban on higher education for women.

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Afghan women sing and hold protest signs during a demonstration in Kabul, Afghanistan, March 26, 2022.
(AP Photo/Mohammed Shoaib Amin)

Taliban leaders have indicated they could reopen schools in March 2022, but instead postponed that decision, adding, “We’re not saying they’ll be closed forever.”

The decision to open schools in Paktia was taken without official approval. A spokesman told Reuters the provincial education department had no notice and had no response from the national education ministry on the matter.

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Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen told Fox News Digital last year that “there will be no issues regarding women’s rights” after the group took over. But, in a recent follow-up interview, he claimed that Afghanistan had “a different society” that “cannot be compared to a European society”.

Suhail Shaheen, spokesperson for the Afghan Taliban, speaks during a joint press conference in Moscow, Russia.  The Taliban broke their silence on August 4, 2022, days after an American drone attack killed the leader of al-Qaeda in the Afghan capital.

Suhail Shaheen, spokesperson for the Afghan Taliban, speaks during a joint press conference in Moscow, Russia. The Taliban broke their silence on August 4, 2022, days after an American drone attack killed the leader of al-Qaeda in the Afghan capital.
(AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko, Pool, File)

Shaheen pushed for a rosier image than critics charged and claimed the Taliban worked to integrate women into government and power roles and did not restrict access to education at all. He also claimed that the group had placed women in positions in the ministries of education, higher education, public health and interior, among others.

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Piers Morgan raised the issue in an interview with Shaheen, noting that the spokesperson’s own daughters go to school, but Shaheen insisted it was because they were “observing the hijab”. He recently told NPR that the issue of women in schools focuses on “school uniforms.”

A member of the Taliban forces fires in the air to disperse Afghan women during a rally to protest Taliban restrictions on women in Kabul, Afghanistan, December 28, 2021.

A member of the Taliban forces fires in the air to disperse Afghan women during a rally to protest Taliban restrictions on women in Kabul, Afghanistan, December 28, 2021.
(Reuters/Ali Khara)

“We never said we were against education [of women]”, Shaheen said in a recent interview with Fox News Digital. “It’s a universal right for everyone. Second, the picture is not as it is painted by our opponents.”

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Shaheen, ignoring NGO and UN reports on the situation of women and girls, tried to blame it on the media.

“Right now there are 450,000 students in private and public universities, all for Afghanistan, and millions of girls studying in primary schools and also in secondary schools,” he added. “It’s not like it’s presented by some media.”

Joan J. Holland