As her first day at school under the Taliban approaches, Sajida al-Hussaini is an optimist. Her father, who has been a teacher for 17 years, and her mother have instilled in her and her siblings the value of education, and she is now one year away from graduating from high school.
Although the Taliban took control of the country last summer, putting an end to many rights that she and other Afghan girls had enjoyed throughout their lives, the regime announced that it would reopen schools on March 23 and allow girls to enroll.
But when Sajida and her classmates arrived at the school’s front gate, officials informed them that girls after sixth grade were no longer allowed to enter the classroom. Lots of girls broke down in tears. “I will never forget that moment in my life,” Sajida said. “It was a dark day.”
Sajida was among a million or so girls in Afghanistan preparing to return to their classrooms after an eight-month hiatus. With the Taliban out of power in the early decades of the 21st century, girls and women across the country gained new liberties that were suddenly returned to suspicion when the fundamentalist group swept through Kabul in August. In previous statements to the international community, the Taliban indicated that they would relax some of their policies that restrict women’s rights, including bans on education. But that was not the case, and when the day the schools reopened, it became clear to Sajda and others that the Taliban intended to maintain their long-standing restrictions, removing any optimism that the regime would demonstrate more ideological resilience in the pursuit of international credibility. . In addition to its continued ban on girls’ education, the Taliban ordered women to cover themselves from head to toe in public and prohibited them from working outside the home, traveling abroad without a guardian, and participating in protests.
For a generation of girls who grew up aspiring to the professional class, the shackles of the Taliban shattered, or at least deferred, the dreams they had kept from their first memories.
Born into a middle-class Shiite family, Sajida always assumed that she would complete her university education and would one day earn enough money to take care of her parents when they were older.
“My parents raised me with hope and fear,” she said. I hope you will enjoy the rights that were denied to previous generations of girls who grew up under the former Taliban rule; She fears that one day the country will come back under the power of people “who don’t believe that girls make up half of human society”.
She started attending school at the age of seven and quickly fell in love with reading, devouring every novel she could get her hands on.
“I was planning to study Persian literature to be a good writer and reflect on the wounds and plight of my community,” Sajida said.
Even in the years since the Taliban left power, Sajida has witnessed dozens of attacks by militant groups on schools and academic centers around Kabul.
In May 2021, the Islamic State bombed a Shiite girls’ school, killing at least 90 girls and wounding 200 others.
Despite the risk of facing violence, she continued to attend school, finishing 11th grade last year before the Taliban took Kabul and leaving her hopes of completing high school and going to college up in the air.
The sudden twist of fate has devastated the fathers across the country who invested years and savings to secure their daughters’ chances of professional success.
In the southeastern province of Ghazni, 150 kilometers west of Kabul, Ibrahim Shah said he did years of manual labor to earn enough money to send his children to school. His daughter Bilqis, 25, graduated from college a year ago, just months before the Taliban took control. She aspired to work as a government employee for her country and to be a role model for the generation of girls who grew up with big dreams. Now she doesn’t know what to do. She said the Taliban’s return “was a black day for Afghan women and girls”.
In response to the Taliban’s policies, the United Nations Security Council held a special meeting and called on “the Taliban to respect the right to education and abide by their commitments to reopen schools to all female students without further delay.” The European Union and the United States also issued condemnations.
“Taliban authorities have repeatedly made public assurances that all girls can go to school,” Liz Throssell, a spokeswoman for the UN human rights office in Geneva, told BuzzFeed News. “We urge them to honor this commitment and immediately rescind the ban to allow girls of all ages across the country to safely return to their classrooms.”
In response to the ban, the World Bank announced in March that it would reconsider funding of $600 million for four projects in Afghanistan aimed at “supporting urgent needs in the education, health, and agricultural sectors, as well as community livelihoods.”
Amid international pressure, the Taliban announced that it was forming an eight-member committee to discuss its policy on girls’ schools. Sajida and four other girls who spoke to BuzzFeed News expressed doubts that the system would allow them to return to their classrooms.