As her first day of school under Taliban rule approaches, Sajida Hussaini is hopeful. Her father, a teacher for 17 years, and her mother had instilled in her and her siblings the value of education, and now she was a year away from high school graduation.
Even though the Taliban took over the country last summer, signaling an end to many of the rights she and other Afghan girls have enjoyed throughout their lives, the administration announced on March 23 that it would reopen schools and allow girls to attend.
But when Sajida and her classmates arrived at the school’s front gate, administrators informed them that girls above sixth grade were no longer allowed to enter the classroom. Many girls shed tears. “I will never forget that moment in my life,” said Sajida. “It’s a dark day.”
Sajida was among a million or more Afghan girls preparing to return to their classrooms after an eight-month hiatus. After the Taliban fell from power in the early decades of the 21st century, girls and women across the country enjoyed new freedoms that were suddenly called into question again in August when the fundamentalist group swept through Kabul. In initial statements to the international community, the Taliban indicated that it would relax some of its policies that restrict women’s rights, including a ban on education. But that was not to be, and when the day came to reopen the schools, Sajida and others understood that the Taliban intended to maintain its long-standing restrictions, washing away any optimism that the regime would show more ideological flexibility in its pursuit of international credibility. . In addition to maintaining a ban on girls’ schooling, the Taliban has ordered women to cover head-to-toe in public and barred them from working outside the home, traveling abroad without a male parent and participating in protests.
For a generation of girls who grew up yearning for a professional class, the Taliban’s restrictions have shattered, or at least postponed, the dreams they’ve had since their earliest memories.
Born into a middle-class Shia family, Sajida always thought 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 hope and fear,” she said. Hopefully she can enjoy the rights denied to previous generations of girls who grew up under the previous regime of the Taliban; Fears that the country may one day come back under the rule of people who “do not believe that girls are half of human society”.
She started going to school at the age of 7 and soon fell in love with reading, devouring every novel she could get her hands on.
“I was planning to study Persian literature to become a better writer and reflect on the wounds and plight of my society,” Sajida said.
In the years since the Taliban were ousted from power, Sajida witnessed dozens of attacks by militant groups on schools and educational centers around Kabul.
In May 2021, ISIS bombed a Shia 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, leaving her hopes of finishing high school and going to college up in the air.
The sudden change in fortunes has devastated parents across the country who invested years and savings to secure their daughters’ opportunities for professional success.
In the southeastern Ghazni province, about 150 kilometers west of Kabul, Ibrahim Shah said he had done manual labor for years to earn enough money to send his children to school. His daughter Belkis, 25, graduated from college a year ago, just months before the Taliban took control. She aspired to work as a civil servant for her country and set a role model for a generation of girls who grew up to dream big. Don’t know what she will do now. The return of the Taliban is “a dark day for Afghan women and girls,” she said.
In response to the Taliban’s policies, the UN Security Council convened a special meeting and called on the “Taliban to respect the right to education and adhere to their commitment to reopen schools for all female students without further delay.” The European Union and the US also issued condemnations.
Taliban “officials have repeatedly given public assurances that all girls can go to school,” Liz Throssell, a spokeswoman for the UN human rights office in Geneva, told BuzzFeed News. “We urge them to honor this commitment and immediately lift the ban to allow girls 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 $600 million in funding for four projects in Afghanistan, aimed at “supporting urgent needs in the education, health and agriculture sectors and community livelihoods.”
Amid international pressure, the Taliban announced the establishment of an eight-member commission to deliberate its policy on girls’ schools. Speaking to BuzzFeed News, Sajida and four other girls expressed doubt that the administration would allow them to return to their classes.