Tomorrow, the start of the school year in Afghanistan, is a day of grief for Afghan teenage girls and the world. The girls grieve both their right to education and the world’s failure to take action to stop the ban.
Today marks day 550 that teenage girls are denied their right to education. The Taliban’s misogynistic regime has made Afghanistan the only country banning girls from secondary school.
The Taliban closed girls’ schools when they overtook Afghanistan, but they promised to respect girls’ right to education. But the day girls’ schools reopened, March 23, 2022, the Taliban shamefully broke their promise and sent teenage girls home.
It’s cruel how the Taliban waited until the moment girls joyfully returned to school before ordering them home. Girls went home weeping, but still hoped to go back.
However, late last year, the Taliban doubled down on their disregard for women by banning women’s university education.
These orders not only cemented the Taliban’s reputation for disregarding women and girls as rights holders, they also proved the Taliban has no interest in Afghanistan’s well-being as a nation. No country can imagine a prosperous future without educated girls and women, and Afghanistan, with the highest level of illiteracy in the world, is facing a dark future.
The Taliban also closed girls’ schools from 1996-2001, depriving a generation of girls from at least five years of learning, thriving, and becoming who they wanted to be. It’s history repeating itself, with the Taliban’s disingenuous excuses, lies, and failed promises. In the meantime, teenage girls in Afghanistan are losing hope and some of the best years of their lives.
Last year, I interviewed 16-year-old Atefa who, in trying to explain the helplessness she felt, said, “For Afghan girls, the earth is unbearable, and the sky is unreachable.” One year later she said to me: “I just have one question, would the world leaders bear it if their daughters were banned from school?”
The Taliban needs to immediately reverse their misogynistic order, reopen schools and universities for girls and women, and stop attacking the future of girls, women, and the country.
As for world leaders, Atefa’s question should trigger prompt, pragmatic, and meaningful actions.