After taking over Afghanistan in August 2021, the Taliban instituted a de facto ban on girls’ secondary education, even though community pressure resulted in some girls’ secondary schools reopening in about nine provinces. Many of these closed after the Taliban broke their promise to reopen all schools in March.
But Balkh province in northern Afghanistan was unique: girls’ secondary schools have remained open since the Taliban took power. But open schools in Balkh and elsewhere have been threatened with closure if they refuse to comply with increasingly harsh dress codes. The Taliban closed one Balkh school for several days after some students had their faces uncovered. A school official shared a voice message from a Taliban official demanding that a principal fire a teacher for her “immodest” dress. One school now has a teacher assigned to “prevent vice and promote virtue.”
“The requirements on hijab are getting tougher day by day,” said a teacher regarding the mandatory Muslim headscarf. “They have spies to record and report.… If students or teachers don’t follow their strict hijab rules, without any discussion they fire the teachers and expel the students.” She shared a photo of her school’s assembly; students and teachers all wore uniforms allowing only their eyes to show.
A student at another school explained: “We are not allowed to wear belts. Our sleeves should be large to hide our elbows and the shape of our arms. But then we were reprimanded because when we write on the board, our sleeves roll back and our arms are revealed.… One day we are asked to have loose sleeves, and the next day we are admonished for it.” The latest order, she said, was to wear loose sleeves but pin them at the wrist.
“All the girls in my school believe the Taliban authorities want to make it so harsh and strict on us that we give up on education on our own,” the student said, adding that she and her classmates are still determined to study. “The decision is not to let them win this.”