Taliban’s broken promises leave Afghanistan’s schoolgirls and women in despair

Special Afghan women protest outside the Ministry of Education. (AFP file photo)
Afghan women protest outside the Ministry of Education. (AFP file photo)
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Updated 25 April 2022

Taliban’s broken promises leave Afghanistan’s schoolgirls and women in despair

Afghan women protest outside the Ministry of Education. (AFP file photo)
  • Continued ban on girls’ secondary education among other repressive steps points to dominance of hardliners
  • Ultraconservatism evident in new rules that ban women without male chaperone from traveling long distances

DUBAI: Every day, Nasima, 16, and Shakila, 17, eagerly await news that their school in Kabul, Lameha-e-Shaheed, will reopen so that they can resume their studies. They have waited one month now since the Taliban abruptly closed secondary schools for girls, reneging on a previous decision to grant women more freedom and access to education.

On the morning of March 23, more than 1 million girls of Nasima and Shakila’s age group had showed up at their schools across Afghanistan for the first time since the Taliban seized power in August last year, only to be turned away from the gates.

“Under the guidance of the leadership of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, schools for women from the sixth grade above are closed until further notice,” read a report by the pro-Taliban Bakhtar News Agency.




“The truth is that the Taliban’s views on women’s rights, human rights and individual freedoms have not changed in the last 20 years,” Nilofar Akrami, a 30-year-old university lecturer who teaches women at Kabul University, told Arab News. (Supplied)

Although many Afghans were dismayed by the news, those familiar with the puritanical views and erratic policies of the Taliban during their 1996-2001 rule were not at all surprised.

Creeping ultraconservatism is evident in new rules that ban women without a hijab or male chaperone from traveling long distances, dismissal of women from jobs and positions of influence, and, most prominently, in the education policy U-turn of March 23.

FASTFACTS

• New ban on girls’ education exposes rifts in the Taliban leadership.

• Afghan teachers and girls hold out little hope of schools reopening.

• Female literacy rate more than doubled between 2000 and 2018.

“They kept telling us that they would reopen the schools and let everyone go back,” Lina Farzam, a primary school teacher in Kabul, told Arab News.

“Although we never trusted that the Taliban had changed, we had hope. We don’t know why the world trusted them and gave them another chance.”

 

 

The about-turn on secondary school education, which reportedly happened after a secret meeting of the group’s leadership in Kandahar, suggests that the ultraconservative wing still retains control over the regime’s ideological trajectory.

“What’s so cruel about this is the fact that they announced that girls can go back to school, then backtracked,” said Farzam. “Imagine those girls happily preparing for school the night before and waiting to go back to class.”

Primary school-aged girls in Afghanistan are permitted to receive schooling up until the sixth grade. Women are also allowed to attend university, albeit under robust gender segregation rules and only if they abide by a strictly enforced dress code.




The Taliban’s shift on girls’ schooling reportedly came after a secret meeting. (AFP)

Following the US-led coalition’s chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan in August 2021, the resurgent Taliban insisted it had changed its ways and would allow women and girls to continue studying as they had under the UN-recognized government.

At a press conference in Kabul on Aug. 18, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid promised that the new government would respect the rights of women.




In this file photo taken on March 23, 2022, girls arrive at their school in Kabul. (AFP)

“The truth is that the Taliban’s views on women’s rights, human rights and individual freedoms have not changed in the last 20 years,” Nilofar Akrami, a 30-year-old university lecturer who teaches women at Kabul University, told Arab News.

“The Taliban are as brutal as they were in the 1990s, and, when it comes to women, they have gotten worse. Unfortunately, they have learned how to wear a good mask to deceive the world.

“They still think women should stay at home and women who leave their home to study or work are bad, and that they will corrupt society.”




“I am disturbed because there is no justification for denying girls an education,” Daisy Khan, founder of the New York-based Women’s Islamic Initiative in Spirituality and Equality, told Arab News. (Supplied)

For Akrami, any hopes for women’s empowerment in Afghanistan have long been dashed. “As a woman who started her career at university to make a difference to the lives of women, I am sorry that my dreams and the dreams of hundreds of women like me have been ruined since the Taliban came to power,” she said.

Asma Faraz, who previously worked at the Afghan Embassy in Washington D.C., is likewise disheartened to see the freedoms and opportunities of the past 20 years snatched away.




Keeping women out of work costs Afghanistan up to $1 billion, or 5 percent of gross domestic product, according to the UN. (Supplied)

“My boss was a female ambassador,” she told Arab News, referring to Roya Rahmani, the first Afghan woman to serve as her country’s top diplomat in the US. “As a woman, I was so proud to see another enter the room and watch how everyone respected her.

“Women can also be ambassadors, women can be members of parliament, women can be journalists and doctors. But now in Kabul, women and girls will see how women cannot go to school and can only get married, and see their mothers only working at home.”

The Taliban leadership has sought to justify its ban on secondary education for Afghan girls on the grounds of religious principle — a view that Islamic scholars and civil society dispute.




At a press conference in Kabul on Aug. 18, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid promised that the new government would respect the rights of women. (Supplied)

“I am disturbed because there is no justification for denying girls an education,” Daisy Khan, founder of the New York-based Women’s Islamic Initiative in Spirituality and Equality, told Arab News.

“In Islam, pursuit of knowledge is an obligation on all Muslims. Prophet Muhammad made no distinction between boys’ and girls’ education. He said: ‘The best of you is one who gives a good education to his children.’”

Conflicting messages from high-ranking officials could be indicative of a schism within the Taliban ranks between the hard line based in the movement’s Kandahar stronghold and the more moderate officials managing affairs from the capital.




Hibatullah Akhundzada, the Islamic Emirate’s supreme leader, has ignored repeated calls, even from many clerics, to reverse the decision on girls’ secondary education. (Supplied)

According to some reports, Hibatullah Akhundzada, the Islamic Emirate’s supreme leader, has ignored repeated calls, even from many clerics, to reverse the decision on girls’ secondary education.

“People keep talking about Hibatullah, but no one has seen him or knows where he is in Kandahar,” said Faraz. “Maybe he is living in a village where people don’t allow their daughters to go to school and he doesn’t know how living is outside the village.

“If we want to give the Taliban a chance, that’s fine, give them a chance, but they can’t rule over everyone else and bring what they think is right from their villages to the cities and to the capital where people used to go to school and work.”




Eager to see the matter resolved quickly and the rights of Afghan women and girls preserved, education activists from the US traveled to Kabul at the end of March to meet with Taliban officials. (Supplied)

In contrast with the views emanating from the Kandahar camp, one senior official recently told NPR that the Taliban had not changed course on girls’ education but simply needed more time to decide on appropriate school uniforms.

“There is no issue of banning girls from schools,” Suhail Shaheen, the Taliban’s permanent ambassador-designate to the UN, told the news outlet. “It is only a technical issue of deciding on the form of school uniform for girls. We hope the uniform issue is resolved and finalized as soon as possible.”




“There is no issue of banning girls from schools,” Suhail Shaheen, the Taliban’s permanent ambassador-designate to the UN, told NPR. (Supplied)

Eager to see the matter resolved quickly and the rights of Afghan women and girls preserved, education activists from the US traveled to Kabul at the end of March to meet with Taliban officials.

“While the world’s attention has turned to the crisis in Ukraine, it is extremely important that we not forget what is happening in Afghanistan, a country which is now experiencing one of its worst years in recorded history,” Masuda Sultan, an Afghan American entrepreneur and human rights advocate, who was part of the delegation, told Arab News.




Taliban fighters stand guard as Afghan protestors take part in a protest against the alleged published reports of harassment of Afghan refugees in Iran, in front of the Iranian embassy in Kabul on April 11, 2022. (AFP)

“The continued economic strangulation of this nation may bring about consequences that will be far more costly to resolve if not addressed right away.”

Indeed, unless the Taliban shows it is willing to soften its hard-line approach, particularly on matters relating to women’s rights, the regime is unlikely to gain access to billions of dollars in desperately needed aid, loans and frozen assets held by the US, IMF and World Bank.




The Taliban leadership has sought to justify its ban on secondary education for Afghan girls on the grounds of religious principle. (Supplied)

Furthermore, keeping women out of work costs Afghanistan up to $1 billion, or 5 percent of gross domestic product, according to the UN. As The Economist noted in a recent article, “in the midst of an economic crisis, the country can ill afford the loss.”

For Farzam and her school pupils in Kabul, and indirectly even for the millions of Afghans in urgent need of economic assistance, the outcome of the apparent ideological tussle within the Taliban leadership could prove momentous, whether for better or worse.

“The girls are now sad because they can’t continue their education,” she told Arab News. “They are eagerly waiting for the reopening of their schools.”


Russian leader Vladimir Putin lashes out at US over Ukraine, Taiwan

Russian leader Vladimir Putin lashes out at US over Ukraine, Taiwan
Updated 7 sec ago

Russian leader Vladimir Putin lashes out at US over Ukraine, Taiwan

Russian leader Vladimir Putin lashes out at US over Ukraine, Taiwan
  • ‘The situation in Ukraine shows that the US is trying to prolong this conflict’
  • ‘We see this as a carefully planned provocation’
MOSCOW: Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday accused Washington of seeking to prolong the conflict in Ukraine and of fueling conflicts elsewhere in the world, including with the visit of US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to Taiwan.
“The situation in Ukraine shows that the US is trying to prolong this conflict. And they act in exactly the same way, fueling the potential for conflict in Asia, Africa and Latin America,” Putin said in televised remarks, addressing the opening ceremony of a security conference in Moscow via videolink.
“The American adventure in relation to Taiwan is not just a trip of an individual irresponsible politician, but part of a purposeful, conscious US strategy to destabilize and make chaotic the situation in the region and the world,” he added.
He said the visit was a “brazen demonstration of disrespect for the sovereignty of other countries and for its (Washington’s) international obligations.”
“We see this as a carefully planned provocation,” Putin said.
Relations between Moscow and Washington have been in tatters since Russia in late February launched a military intervention in pro-Western Ukraine.
Pummeled by a barrage of unprecedented Western sanctions, Putin has sought to bolster ties with countries in Africa and Asia, especially with China.
Moscow was in full solidarity with key ally Beijing during Pelosi’s August visit to self-ruled, democratic Taiwan, which China considers its territory.

Iran says Swedish citizen detained for espionage might face other charges

Iran says Swedish citizen detained for espionage might face other charges
Updated 32 min 1 sec ago

Iran says Swedish citizen detained for espionage might face other charges

Iran says Swedish citizen detained for espionage might face other charges

DUBAI: A Swedish citizen detained in Iran on suspicion of espionage might face other charges, Iranian judiciary spokesperson Masoud Setayeshi said on Tuesday in a televised news conference.
The suspect, who remains unnamed, had been under surveillance by the intelligence ministry during several previous trips to Iran because of “suspicious behavior,” the official IRNA news agency reported in July.


Bus rams into fuel truck in eastern Pakistan, killing 20

Bus rams into fuel truck in eastern Pakistan, killing 20
Updated 16 August 2022

Bus rams into fuel truck in eastern Pakistan, killing 20

Bus rams into fuel truck in eastern Pakistan, killing 20
  • The bus was traveling from the eastern city of Lahore to the southern port city of Karachi
  • Deadly traffic accidents are common in Pakistan due to poor road infrastructure and disregard for traffic laws

MULTAN, Pakistan: A passenger bus rammed into a fuel truck on a highway in eastern Pakistan before dawn on Tuesday, igniting a fire that killed at least 20 people, police and rescue officials said.
According to the officials, the accident happened near the town of Jalalpur Peerwala in Punjab province. The bus was traveling from the eastern city of Lahore to the southern port city of Karachi.
Tahir Wattoo, a local government official in Multan, the nearest district, said early indications were that the bus driver’s negligence had caused the collision. The driver, who was also killed, slammed into the back of the fuel truck, according to photographs from the scene.
The injured were taken to hospital and at least six passengers were reported in critical condition, he added.
Some of the bodies were burned beyond recognition and DNA tests will be conducted to identify the remains before the bodies are handed over to the families, Wattoo also said.
Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif offered his condolences in a statement and asked health authorities to provide the best possible treatment to the injured.
Deadly traffic accidents are common in Pakistan due to poor road infrastructure and disregard for traffic laws.


Armenian blast death toll rises to 16

Armenian blast death toll rises to 16
Updated 16 August 2022

Armenian blast death toll rises to 16

Armenian blast death toll rises to 16
  • Sunday’s blast at the Surmalu wholesale market also injured 60 people
  • Local authorities have excluded the possibility that it was a terror attack

YEREVAN: The death toll from an explosion at a bustling market in the Armenian capital Yerevan rose to 16, Armenia’s emergency situations ministry said on Tuesday.
Sunday’s blast at the Surmalu wholesale market also injured 60 people after it caused a fire and the collapse of a building.
“Sixteen bodies were found during search and rescue efforts,” the ministry said in a statement, adding that 18 people were still missing.
Officials said more than 350 rescuers are at work on the ground.
The cause has not yet been established, but local news reports, citing witnesses, said the explosion went off at a place that stored fireworks.
Local authorities have excluded the possibility that it was a terror attack and prosecutors have already launched a probe into violations “on stocking inflammable goods,” breaches in fire safety standards and the death of people “due to negligence.”
The disaster comes as the country of three million people is still recovering from a 2020 war with Azerbaijan, which ended in a heavy defeat and sparked a political crisis.
Shortly after Sunday’s blast, officials evacuated people from Yerevan metro stations after a bomb threat, but authorities found no explosive device.


China sanctions seven Taiwanese ‘independence diehard’ officials

China sanctions seven Taiwanese ‘independence diehard’ officials
Updated 16 August 2022

China sanctions seven Taiwanese ‘independence diehard’ officials

China sanctions seven Taiwanese ‘independence diehard’ officials
  • Firms and investors related to those sanctioned will also not be allowed to profit in China

BEIJING: China imposed sanctions on Tuesday on seven Taiwanese officials and lawmakers it accused of being “independence diehards,” including banning them from entering, in its latest angry reproach of the democratically governed island.
The sanctions come after US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Taiwan this month, a trip that China said had sent a wrong signal to what it views as pro-independence forces.
China considers Taiwan its own territory and not a separate country. Taiwan’s government disputes China’s claim.
China’s Taiwan Affairs Office said among those sanctioned were Taiwan’s de facto ambassador to the United States, Hsiao Bi-khim, Secretary-General of Taiwan’s National Security Council Wellington Koo, and politicians from Taiwan’s ruling Democratic Progressive Party.
A Taiwan Affairs Office spokesperson said that those sanctioned would not be able to visit China, Hong Kong and Macau. Firms and investors related to them will also not be allowed to profit in China.
“For some time, a few diehard separatist elements, out of their own interests, have gone to lengths to collude with external forces in provocations advocating Taiwan independence,” state news agency Xinhua cited the spokesperson as saying.
“They have deliberately instigated confrontations across the Taiwan Strait, and recklessly undermined peace and stability in the region.”
Taiwan’s foreign ministry said in response that the island was a democracy that “could not be interfered with by China.”
“Even more, we cannot accept threats and menace from authoritarian and totalitarian systems,” ministry spokesperson Joanne Ou told reporters in Taipei.
The sanctions will have little practical impact as senior Taiwanese officials do not visit China.
The seven are in addition to Taiwan Premier Su Tseng-chang, Foreign Minister Joseph Wu and parliament Speaker You Si-kun who were previously sanctioned https://www.reuters.com/world/china/china-says-it-will-hold-supporters-taiwans-independence-criminally-responsible-2021-11-05 by China.
Taiwan’s government says only the island’s 23 million people have the right to decide their own future.