Afghan girls face uncertain future one year after Taliban school ban

Afghan girls face uncertain future one year after Taliban school ban
Above, girls study in a secret school at an undisclosed location in Afghanistan. (AFP)
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Updated 12 August 2022

Afghan girls face uncertain future one year after Taliban school ban

Afghan girls face uncertain future one year after Taliban school ban
  • Some are trying to find ways to keep education from stalling for a generation of young women
  • Underground schools present an alternative, though with limitations

KABUL: For most teenage girls in Afghanistan, it’s been a year since they set foot in a classroom. With no sign the ruling Taliban will allow them back to school, some are trying to find ways to keep education from stalling for a generation of young women.
At a house in Kabul, dozens gathered on a recent day for classes in an informal school set up by Sodaba Nazhand. She and her sister teach English, science and math to girls who should be in secondary school.
“When the Taliban wanted to take away the rights of education and the rights of work from women, I wanted to stand against their decision by teaching these girls,” Nazhand said.
Hers is one of a number of underground schools in operation since the Taliban took over the country a year ago and banned girls from continuing their education past the sixth grade. While the Taliban have permitted women to continue attending universities, this exception will become irrelevant when there are no more girls graduating from high schools.
“There is no way to fill this gap, and this situation is very sad and concerning,” Nazhand said.
The relief agency Save the Children interviewed nearly 1,700 boys and girls between the ages of 9 and 17 in seven provinces to assess the impact of the education restrictions.
The survey, conducted in May and June and released Wednesday, found that more than 45 percent of girls are not going to school, compared with 20 percent of boys. It also found that 26 percent of girls are showing signs of depression, compared with 16 percent of boys.
Nearly the entire population of Afghanistan was thrown into poverty and millions were left unable to feed their families when the world cut off financing in response to the Taliban takeover.
Teachers, parents and experts all warn that the country’s multiple crises, including the devastating collapse of the economy, are proving especially damaging to girls. The Taliban have restricted women’s work, encouraged them to stay at home and issued dress codes requiring them to cover their faces, except for their eyes, though the codes are not always enforced.
The international community is demanding that the Taliban open schools for all girls, and the US and EU have created plans to pay salaries directly to Afghanistan’s teachers, keeping the sector going without putting the funds through the Taliban.
But the question of girls’ education appears to have been tangled in behind-the-scenes differences among the Taliban. Some in the movement support returning girls to school — whether because they see no religious objection to it or because they want to improve ties with the world. Others, especially rural, tribal elders who make up the backbone of the movement, staunchly oppose it.
During their first time ruling Afghanistan in the 1990s, the Taliban imposed much stricter restrictions on women, banning school for all girls, barring women from work and requiring them to wear an all-encompassing burka if they went outside.
In the 20 years after the Taliban were driven from power in 2001, an entire generation of women returned to school and work, particularly in urban areas. Seemingly acknowledging those changes, the Taliban reassured Afghans when they seized control again last year that they would not return to the heavy hand of the past.
Officials have publicly insisted that they will allow teen girls back into school, but say time is needed to set up logistics for strict gender segregation to ensure an “Islamic framework.”
Hopes were raised in March: Just before the new school year was to begin, the Taliban Education Ministry proclaimed everyone would be allowed back. But on March 23, the day of the reopening, the decision was suddenly reversed, surprising even ministry officials. It appeared that at the last minute, the Taliban’s supreme leader, Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada, bowed to the opposition.
Underground schools present an alternative, though with limitations.
A month after the Taliban takeover, Nazhand started teaching street children to read with informal outdoor classes in a park in her neighborhood. Women who couldn’t read or write joined them, she said.
Some time later, a benefactor who saw her in the park rented a house for her to hold classes in, and bought tables and chairs. Once she was operating inside, Nazhand included teen girls who were no longer allowed to go to public school.
Now there are about 250 students, including 50 or 60 schoolgirls above sixth grade.
“I am not only teaching them school subjects, but also trying to teach them how to fight and stand for their rights,” Nazhand said.
The Taliban haven’t changed from their first time in power in the late 1990s, she said. “These are the same Taliban, but we shouldn’t be the same women of those years. We must struggle: by writing, by raising our voice, by any way possible.”
Nazhand’s school, and others like it, are technically illegal under the Taliban’s current restrictions, but so far they haven’t shut hers down. At least one other person operating a school declined to speak to reporters, however, fearing possible repercussions.
Despite her unwavering commitment, Nazhand worries about her school’s future. Her benefactor paid for six months’ rent on the house, but he died recently, and she doesn’t have any way to keep paying for rent or supplies.
For students, the underground schools are a lifeline.
“It is so hard when you can’t go to school,” said one of them, Dunya Arbabzada. “Whenever I pass by my school and see the closed door ... it’s so upsetting for me.”


Burkina putsch leader urges end to violence on French targets

Burkina putsch leader urges  end to violence on French targets
Updated 16 sec ago

Burkina putsch leader urges end to violence on French targets

Burkina putsch leader urges  end to violence on French targets

OUAGADOUGOU: Burkina Faso’s new self-proclaimed putsch leader on Sunday called for an end to violence against French targets, after a series of attacks against buildings linked to the former colonial power.

“Things are progressively returning to order, so we urge you to freely go about your business and to refrain from any act of violence and vandalism ... notably those that could be perpetrated against the French Embassy and the French military base,” an officer said, reading on television from a statement from Captain Ibrahim Traore, who stood by
his side.

Dozens of supporters of Traore gathered at the French Embassy in the capital. Security forces fired tear gas from inside the compound to disperse the protesters after they set fire to barriers outside and lobbed rocks at the structure, with some trying to scale the fence.

The latest unrest began on Friday, when junior military officers announced they had toppled the country’s junta leader, sparking deep concern among world powers over the latest putsch to hit the Sahel region battling a growing insurgency.

Late on Saturday, the junta leader, Paul-Henri Sandaogo Damiba, said he had no intention of giving up power and urged the officers to “come to their senses.”

His comments came shortly after the army general staff dismissed the coup as an “internal crisis” within the military and said dialogue was “ongoing” to remedy the situation.

The capital remained tense overnight, with demonstrators gathering on the main roads of Ouagadougou as a helicopter hovered above.

In a statement read out on television on Sunday, the officers who claimed the coup said they had lifted a curfew they had imposed and called for a meeting of ministry heads for later in the day.

The officers had accused Damiba of having hidden at a military base of former colonial power France to plot a “counteroffensive,” charges that he and France denied.

The French Foreign Ministry condemned “the violence against our embassy in the strongest terms” by “hostile demonstrators manipulated by a disinformation campaign against us.”

It marked the latest incident against a France-linked building in two days, after a fire at the embassy on Saturday and a blaze in front of the French Institute in the western city of Bobo-Dioulasso. A French institute in the capital also sustained major damage, the ministry said.


Trump staffers not returning White House records, National Archives says

Trump staffers not returning White House records, National Archives says
Updated 46 min 15 sec ago

Trump staffers not returning White House records, National Archives says

Trump staffers not returning White House records, National Archives says
  • FBI seized more than 11,000 records, including about 100 classified documents, in a court-approved search

WASHINGTON: Former President Donald Trump’s administration has not turned over all presidential records and the National Archives will consult with the Justice Department on whether to move to get them back, the agency has told Congress.
A congressional panel on Sept. 13 sought an urgent review by the National Archives and Records Administration after agency staff members acknowledged that they did not know if all presidential records from Trump’s White House had been turned over.
“While there is no easy way to establish absolute accountability, we do know that we do not have custody of everything we should,” acting Archivist Debra Wall said in a letter Friday to the House Committee on Oversight and Reform.
The Archives knows some White House staffers conducted official business on personal electronic messaging accounts that were that were not copied or forwarded to their official accounts, in violation of the Presidential Records Act, Wall said.
“NARA has been able to obtain such records from a number of former officials and will continue to pursue the return of similar types of presidential records from former officials,” Wall said in the letter, first reported by the Wall Street Journal.
She said the Archives, the federal agency charged with preserving government records, would consult with the Department of Justice on “whether to initiate an action for the recovery of records unlawfully removed.”
The Oversight Committee shared a copy of the letter with Reuters but has not issued a statement on it yet.
Representatives for Trump did not immediately return a request for comment on the matter.
Trump is facing a criminal investigation by the Justice Department for retaining government records — some marked as highly classified, including “top secret” — at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida after leaving office in January 2021.
The FBI seized more than 11,000 records, including about 100 documents marked as classified, in a court-approved Aug. 8 search at Mar-a-Lago.
The Justice Department and Trump’s lawyers have been locked in a legal battle over how the records are handled. Government lawyers have been granted access to the classified documents but on Friday asked an appeals court to expedite its ability to access the non-classified documents seized in Florida.
Read more:
Trump was sued by New York’s attorney general. What legal woes does he face?


French march in Paris to rally support for women in Iran

French march in Paris to rally support for women in Iran
Updated 02 October 2022

French march in Paris to rally support for women in Iran

French march in Paris to rally support for women in Iran
  • Some women cut off chunks of their hair in protest

PARIS: Thousands of people marched in Paris on Sunday to show their support for Iranian protesters standing up to their leadership over the death of a young woman in police custody. Several female demonstrators chopped off chunks of their hair and tossed them into the air as a gesture of liberation.
Women of Iranian heritage, French feminist groups and leading politicians were among those who joined the gathering at Republique Plaza before marching through eastern Paris.
“Woman, Life, Liberty!” the crowd chanted, undeterred by the rainy weather. Some banners read: “Freedom for Iranian women,” or “No to Obligatory Hijab” or just the young woman’s name: “#Mahsa Amini.”
It was the latest and appeared to be the largest of several protests in France in support of the Iranian demonstrators. Iranians and others have also marched in cities around the world.
Thousands of Iranians have taken to the streets over the last two weeks to protest the death of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old woman who had been detained by Iran’s morality police in the capital of Tehran for allegedly not adhering to Iran’s strict Islamic dress code.
The protesters have vented their anger over the treatment of women and wider repression in the Islamic Republic, and the demonstrations escalated into calls for the overthrow of the clerical establishment that has ruled Iran since 1979.
At the Paris protest, some chanted in Persian and French, “Khomenei get out!” — referring to Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Khomenei. Some women’s cheeks bore drawings of a red poppy, the symbol of a martyr in Iran.
Iris Farkhondeh, a 40-year-old French scholar who came to France as a refugee when she was a toddler, said she worries about rising Islamist extremism and the risk of terrorist attacks in France by religious extremists.
“The battle we fight in Iran is the same as that in France,” she said.
Other protesters described anger at Iran’s dress codes and encroaching restrictions on women. Some were afraid to give their names out of concerns for repercussions for family members in Iran.
Romane Ranjbaran, 28, came to protest with her mother and other family members.
”Iran is part and parcel of my history. My mom knew free Iran, when women were free,” she said.
She said she was happy to see so many people at Sunday’s gathering.
“It is an international fight. If we want the situation in Iran to improve, we need international support,” she said.


Greece says it’s open to talks with Turkey once provocations end

Greece says it’s open to talks with Turkey once provocations end
Updated 02 October 2022

Greece says it’s open to talks with Turkey once provocations end

Greece says it’s open to talks with Turkey once provocations end
  • “It is up to Turkey to choose if it will come to such a dialogue or not, but the basic ingredient must be a de-escalation,” Dendias said

ATHENS: Greece wants to have a constructive dialogue with Turkey based on international law but its Aegean neighbor must halt its unprecedented escalation of provocations, the Greek foreign minister said on Sunday.
The two countries — North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) allies but historic foes — have been at odds for decades over a range of issues, including where their continental shelves start and end, overflights in the Aegean Sea and divided Cyprus.
“It is up to Turkey to choose if it will come to such a dialogue or not, but the basic ingredient must be a de-escalation,” Nikos Dendias told Proto Thema newspaper in an interview.
Last month, the European Union voiced concern over statements by Turkish President Tayip Erdogan accusing Greece, an EU member, of occupying demilitarised islands in the Aegean and saying Turkey was ready to “do what is necessary” when the time came.
“The one responsible for a de-escalation is the one causing the escalation, which is Turkey,” Dendias said.
He blamed Ankara for increased provocations with a rhetoric of false and legally baseless claims, “even personal insults.”
Turkey has sharply increased its overflights and violations of Greek airspace, Dendias told the paper, adding that its behavior seems to be serving a “revisionist narrative” that it promotes consistently.
He said Turkish claims that Greece cannot be an equal interlocutor diplomatically, politically and militarily violates the basic rule of foreign relations — the principle of euality among nations.
“It is an insulting approach that ranks various countries as more or less equal,” Dendias said.


UN Net-Zero Asset Owner Alliance to hold forum on blended finance

UN Net-Zero Asset Owner Alliance to hold forum on blended finance
Updated 02 October 2022

UN Net-Zero Asset Owner Alliance to hold forum on blended finance

UN Net-Zero Asset Owner Alliance to hold forum on blended finance
  • Blended finance structures will help mobilize climate capital toward emerging markets, developing economies: Alliance

GENEVA: The UN-convened Net-Zero Asset Owner Alliance will hold a high-level forum on the potential of blended finance aims, the Emirates News Agency reported.

It follows the publication Call on Policymakers to facilitate the scaling of blended finance structures to fund climate solutions in order to meet the terms of the Paris Agreement on climate change, and UN sustainable development goals.

The agenda will include a keynote address by UN Special Adviser to the Secretary-General on Climate Action Selwin Hart.

The alliance, signed by UN Special Envoy for Climate Action and Finance Mark Carney and UN High-Level Climate Action Champion Nigel Topping, noted that blended finance structures would help to mobilize climate capital toward emerging markets and developing economies.

Given their experience and expertise, particularly in EMDEs, as well as their higher risk tolerance and official development mandates, multilateral development banks and development finance institutions have significant potential to mobilize private capital through blended finance.

By collaborating with Convergence (the global network for blended finance) and establishing dialogue with members of the Coalition of Finance Ministers for Climate Action, the alliance hopes to contribute to the implementation of the highlighted solutions.

Massive capital mobilization into EMDEs is possible only if donors, development banks, and private-sector financiers work together to effect systemic change in how private capital is deployed in climate and SDGs finance.