Primary school learners line up outside a school in Kandahar, Afghanistan Photo – EPA
Johannesburg – When the Taliban came into power in 2021, they promised to allow girls to continue attending school. In March 2022 they announced that girls will not be allowed to attend schools, causing a backlash from the international community.
Although reports say they have reneged on their promise, Muhammad Suhail Shaheen, Head of the Political Office Doha Qatar, said that girls’ education has not been banned but temporarily closed.
“We are currently looking at making things safer for the girls. We are looking at a comprehensive system. We are looking at transportation for them, books, printing books, making sure the curriculum falls in line with Islamic principles and finding female teachers to teach the girls. The schools will open up when the supreme leader agrees to do so but the closure is just temporary.”
Senior girls (grade six and up) have not been permitted to return to classes. Following the 23 March announcement, those who did attend were turned back and have not returned to school. However, it seems like not all schools in the country are impacted. Dr Yvonne Ridley, UK-based journalist, is currently in Afghanistan with the Al-Khair Foundation (AKF) and held meetings with senior Taliban members to discuss the situation and the way forward.
Ridley noted that in Kabul senior girls are still attending private schools and universities. There are a handful of provinces that are allowing senior girls to attend schools and universities. Outlying areas, rural areas, and public schools have been imposed with the announcements.
This is a bump in the road for Afghanistan, said Ridley. The promises made during the “famous press conference” that women would have equal rights when it comes to education have not materialised.
Not allowing girls to go to school has only given more ammo to the Taliban’s critics. The US will use this to explain their continued sanctions on Afghanistan, imposed on the country after the 2001 US invasion. Ridley explained why the Taliban might have brought girls education to a holt.
“There are two things that are happening. There’s the curriculum that is being pulled together. That can’t be done overnight and there is also a cultural issue especially in the remote area of Afghanistan where parents do not want to let their daughters out of the house. The sad fact is they are vehemently against sending their daughters to school. These are the areas where there was a huge amount of support for the Taliban. It’s a very delicate area. It’s nothing to do with Islam and everything to do with culture.”
This culture is more entrenched within the hearts of those living in the Pashtun tribal regions. The Taliban is mostly made up of ethnic Pashtuns with a few being from ethnic groups such as Uzbeks and Tajiks. According to reports, the Taliban are working on a way forward to make accessible education for senior girls nationwide.
The Taliban have been in existence since the 1990s while Afghan culture has been present for a much longer time. As such, it means the Taliban must tread very carefully and slowly to overcome this problem, said Ridley. The new curriculum being established is due to the understanding that the current one goes against some Islamic teachings.
The situation has only worsened because Afghanistan is currently a country that is cash strapped. With no money in the country, it makes it harder to trade with other countries and to build the infrastructure needed for progress. Ridley believes the international community is delaying foreign aid to impose a “begging bowl policy” on them and keep them subservient.
“If the economy were able to operate as the Taliban had planned, I think that Afghanistan would be well on its way to making productive trade deals with its neighbours. What a lot of people don’t realise is that when the Taliban came to power was that they had spent months, not years, developing relations with neighbouring countries. They thought when they came into power, they would have been able to start trading.”
There are no operational banks in the country and as society is a cash-based one, people are not able to get paid. The foreign aid that is being held back and the sanctions placed on Afghanistan has caused its progress to stagnate. This, including no banking system, said Ridley, makes it extremely difficult to run the country.
On top of these sanctions, the US has frozen $7 billion that the Afghan central bank has in its banks. Furthermore, the Biden administration plans to use half of that ($3,5 billion) as compensation to the families of those killed on September 11, 2001. While the Biden administration have chosen to reduce money rightfully meant for the Afghan people, members of the 911 victims’ survivor groups are opposed to this decision. Members from the group visited Kabul where they held a press conference stating they wanted the money to be unfrozen. Seeking no compensation from these funds.
Ridley has called on the international community to stop meddling in the affairs of Afghanistan and their foreign affairs. Even if people don’t like the Taliban, the fact that they came into power so quickly shows “that they had the support of the people on the ground”.
“It doesn’t matter what I think [about the government]. The one thing that I have been able to do, being a woman in Kabul, I’ve been able to go into various ministries and speak to senior government officials and ministers and I haven’t been shunted off in a dark room or put behind a screen. I’ve been treated as an equal which is encouraging. This is a much more enlightened regime than the Taliban in the 1990s.”
The conversations with the officials have been fruitful. Ridley said that AKF would be starting a new school building program but could not elaborate on it.
“They [AKF] will be making a very positive announcement soon involving a new school building program for girls and it has been agreed … It is very encouraging.”
Even with this program being agreed by the AFK and the government, Ridley feels that things are still progressing slowly.
“The wheels aren’t turning fast enough. That is what I would say. They know what the problem is, and they are trying to overcome it. They want senior girls to go to school. They have smaller girls going to school. It’s just this one area they have got to overcome, and I am confident that it will happen, but I want the wheels to turn more quickly.”
Dr Yvonne Ridley on the Ashraf Garda show: