The Taliban would appear to have deferred to the demand of the international community by pledging to open schools for girls across the country by the end of March.
Denied recognition by the world, the dispensation in Kabul appears finally to have buckled, although it must be said there are still weeks to go before the deadline is reached. Ever since the takeover in mid-August, girls in many parts of Afghanistan have not been allowed back to school beyond grade 7.
The international community, reluctant to formally recognise a Taliban-run administration, is wary the group could re-impose harsh measures seen during its previous reign two decades ago. At that time, women were banned from education, work, and public life. Zabihullah Mujahid, the Taliban’s deputy minister of culture and information, has said education departments are looking to open classrooms for all girls and women following the Afghan New Year, which starts on March 21.
Education for girls and women “is a question of capacity,” Mujahid said in an interview. Girls and boys must be completely segregated in schools, he said, adding that the biggest obstacle so far has been finding or building enough dormitories, or hostels, where girls could stay while going to school. In heavily populated areas, it is not enough to have separate classrooms for boys and girls. Separate school buildings are needed, he said. “We are not against education,” Mujahid stressed. Thus far, the Taliban dictates have been erratic, varying from province to province. Girls have not been allowed back in state-run schools beyond grade 7, except in about 10 of the country’s 34 provinces.
In Kabul, the capital, private universities, and high schools have continued to operate uninterrupted. Most are small and the classes have always been segregated. “We are trying to solve these problems by the coming year,” so that schools and universities can open,” Mujahid said.
The international community has been sceptical of Taliban announcements, saying it will wait for action, even as it scrambles to provide billions of dollars to avert a humanitarian catastrophe that the UN chief this week warned could endanger the lives of millions. With a breakdown of services and only sporadic electricity in the bitterly cold Afghan winter, most people rely on firewood and coal for heat.
Among the hardest hit are some 3 million Afghans who live as refugees within their own country, having fled their homes because of war, drought, poverty, or fear of the Taliban. Earlier this month, the United Nations launched a $5 billion appeal for Afghanistan, the single largest appeal for one country. Washington spent $145 billion on reconstruction and development projects in Afghanistan since the 2001 invasion it led to oust the Taliban. But there are questions about how much of that money reached actual beneficiaries. For even before the Taliban recaptured the country, the poverty rate was 54 per cent, and a 2018 Gallup poll revealed unprecedented misery among Afghans. Education may be the last hope