As the first day of school under Taliban rule approached, Sajida Hussaini was filled with hope. Her father, a teacher for 17 years, and her mother instilled in her and her siblings the value of education, and now she is only a year away from graduating from high school.
Although the Taliban took over the country last summer, marking an end to many of the rights she and other Afghan girls have enjoyed throughout their lives, the regime has announced that it will reopen schools on March 23 and allowed girls to attend.
But when Sajida and her classmates reached the front gate of the school, the administration informed them that girls after the sixth grade were not allowed in the classroom anymore. Many girls burst into tears. “I will never forget that moment in my life,” Sajida said. “It was a dark day.”
Sajida is among more than a million schoolgirls in Afghanistan who are preparing to return to class after an eight-month hiatus. With the Taliban losing power in the early decades of the 21st century, girls and women across the country gained new freedoms that were suddenly called into question as the fundamentalist group swept through. Kabul in August. In initial statements to the international community, the Taliban signaled that they would relax some policies that restrict women’s rights, including a ban on education. But that didn’t happen, and as the day of reopening schools, Sajida and others realized that the Taliban intended to maintain their longstanding restrictions, washing away any optimism that the regime would be able to demonstrate greater ideological flexibility in pursuit of international credibility. . In addition to maintaining a ban on girls going to school, the Taliban ordered women to cover their faces from head to toe when in public and banned them from working outside the home, going abroad without a male guardian and join the protests.
For a generation of girls raised to aspire to enter the professional class, the Taliban’s restrictions have shattered, or at least delayed, the dreams they have nurtured since memories. their first.
Born into a middle-class Shiite family, Sajida always assumed that she would complete her college education and one day earn enough money to take care of her parents when they were old.
“My parents raised me with both hope and fear,” she said. It is hoped that she will enjoy the rights denied to previous generations of girls who grew up under previous Taliban rule; fear that the country may one day return under the power of those who “don’t believe that girls are half of human society.”
She started school at the age of seven and quickly became addicted to reading, devouring every novel she could get her hands on.
“I plan to study Persian literature to become a good writer and reflect on the wounds and circumstances of my society,” says Sajida.
Even in the years after the Taliban were driven from power, Sajida has seen dozens of attacks by militant groups on schools and academic centers around Kabul.
In May 2021, ISIS bombed a Shiite girls’ school, killing at least 90 girls and injuring 200 others.
Despite the risk of facing violence, she continued to attend school, finishing 11th grade last year before the Taliban took over Kabul and leaving her hopes of finishing high school and entering university left open.
The sudden change of fate has prompted parents across the country to invest years and years of savings to ensure their daughters’ chances of career success.
In the southeastern province of Ghazni, 150 kilometers west of Kabul, Ibrahim Shah said he worked years of manual labor to earn enough money to send his children to school. His daughter, Belqis, 25, graduated from university a year ago, just months before the Taliban took control. She once aspired to be a civil servant for her country and became a role model for the generation of girls with big dreams. Now she doesn’t know what to do. The return of the Taliban “is a dark day for Afghan women and girls,” she said.
In response to the policies of the Taliban, United Nations Security Council convened a special meeting and called on “Taliban to respect the right to education and live up to their commitments to reopen schools to all girls without further delay”. The European Union and the US also issued condemnation.
Liz Throssell, a spokesman for the United Nations Office for Human Rights in Geneva, told BuzzFeed News that “the Taliban government has repeatedly made public assurances that all girls can go to school. “We urge them to honor this commitment and immediately reverse the ban to allow schoolgirls 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 review funding of $600 million for four projects in Afghanistan to “support urgent needs in the education, health and agricultural sectors.” as well as the livelihood of the community”.
Under international pressure, the Taliban announced that they were forming an eight-member committee to consider its policy on girls’ schools. Sajida and four other female students who spoke to BuzzFeed News expressed skepticism that the regime would allow them to return to their classrooms.