KABUL, Afghanistan — In a surprise decision the hardline leadership of Afghanistan’s new rulers has decided against opening educational institutions to girls beyond Grade six, a Taliban official said Wednesday on the first day of Afghanistan’s new school year.
The latest setback for girls’ education is certain to receive widespread condemnation from the international community that has been urging the Taliban leaders to open schools and give women their right to public space.
The unexpected decision came late on Tuesday as Afghanistan’s education ministry prepared for the new year opening of school, which was expected to herald the return of girls to school. A statement by the ministry earlier in the week urged “all students” to come to school.
However the decision to postpone a return of girls going to school in higher levels appeared to be a concession to the rural and deeply tribal backbone of the hardline Taliban movement, that in many parts of the countryside are reluctant to send their daughters to school.
Girls have been banned from school beyond Grade 6 in most of the country since the Taliban returned to power in mid-August. Universities opened up earlier this year in much of the country, but since taking power the Taliban edicts have been erratic and while a handful of provinces continued to provide education to all, most provinces closed educational institutions for girls and women.
In the capital Kabul private schools and universities have operated uninterrupted.
The religiously-driven Taliban administration fears going forward with enrolling girls beyond Grade 6 could erode their base, said Waheedullah Hashmi, external relations and donor representative with the Taliban-led administration.
“The leadership hasn’t decided when or how they will allow girls to return to school,” Hashmi said. While he accepted that urban centers are mostly supportive of girls education, much of rural Afghanistan is opposed, particularly in tribal Pashtun regions.
In some rural areas a brother will disown a brother in the city if he finds out that he is letting his daughters go to school,” said Hashimi, who said the Taliban leadership is trying to decide how to open education for girls beyond Grade 6 countrywide.
Most Taliban are ethnic Pashtuns. In their sweep through the country last year, other ethnics groups such as Uzbeks and Tajiks in the north of the country either joined the fight to give the Taliban their victory or simply chose not to fight.
“We did everything the Taliban asked in terms of Islamic dress and they promised that girls could go to school and now they have broken their promise,” said Mariam Naheebi, a local journalist who spoke to the Associated Press in the Afghan capital. Naheebi has protested for women’s rights and says “they have not been honest with us.”
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