Afghan protesters urge Taliban to reopen girls’ schools

KABUL – About two dozen, mainly female, protesters gathered close to the Taliban’s Ministry of Education on Saturday morning, calling on the group to reopen girls’ secondary schools.

The Taliban have been widely condemned for issuing a last-minute U-Turn earlier this week, ordering them to close, just hours after teenage pupils began to arrive for the start of the new academic year.  The protesters chanted, “Education is our right! Open the doors of girls’ schools!” while armed Taliban members looked on.  One female teacher attending told the BBC: “When it comes to standing up for freedom and the girls who want to go to school, I’m willing to die. “We are here for the rights of our daughters to get an education. Without that right, we might as well be dead already.”

The Taliban has previously broken up demonstrations and detained those involved, but on this occasion the protest was allowed to continue.

Since the group took power last August, girls’ primary schools in most of the country, along with all boys’ schools, have remained open, but older girls have not been allowed back in the classroom.

The Taliban’s Ministry of Education had said girls’ secondary schools would restart on Wednesday, but the decision was overruled by the group’s central leadership, who said they could remain closed until a “comprehensive” and “Islamic” plan for them had been drawn up.

The move provoked an outpouring of grief. On social media, Afghans have been sharing videos of pupils sobbing after returning home early from what they thought would be their first day back at school.  A presenter on the popular Tolo TV channel struggled to hold back his tears during a discussion on the issue.  On Friday, a joint statement by officials from 10 countries, including the US and UK, described the Taliban’s decision as “profoundly disturbing”.

The US State Department cancelled meetings with the group that had been scheduled to take place in Qatar.

The chaotic policy reversal by the Taliban probably reflects divisions within the group between more hardline and moderate elements.

In some provinces, particularly in northern Afghanistan, local Taliban officials have allowed teenage girls to continue to study, but others appear to oppose the idea.

Crying in frustration, one protester at Saturday’s demonstration in Kabul said: “I want our generation to be free and to flourish, not just to shed tears at home.”

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