‘I was banned from school under the last Taliban regime – these girls’ sadness is also mine’

Last Wednesday, when I woke up in the morning I had a look, as usual, at the news about Afghanistan. Watching a video of a girl in school uniform, standing in front of her school’s gate and crying, ruined my day. The Taliban had announced that day that thousands of girls like her would not be allowed to return to secondary school, despite previous empty assurances.

Do you know how hard and painful it is when you pick up your books and want to go to school with a thousand hopes and with eagerness, but they only let your brother enter and tell you to go back home just because you are a girl? But I can understand them because I had  the same traumatic experience. Seeing this scene reminded me of the time when I was a secondary school student.

I remember it well; it was almost the end of the academic year in Kabul, and we were preparing for the final exams when the Taliban first took control in 1996 and banned the girls from education. At that time, I asked my mother, who was a teacher: “What will happen?” 

“Next year, you will go back to school,” my mother replied with confidence. “This situation will not last long because the international community will not allow the Taliban to keep girl schools closed,” she added.

I also believed that. During the school holidays, I reviewed my books and got ready for the coming academic year. As usual, my mother made a new uniform for me and my two younger sisters and bought us new handbags. 

Spring came, and I had been waiting impatiently for the announcement that girls would be allowed back to school, but it never happened. Years passed; the uniform was no longer my size, but I kept it as a souvenir in my closet. Sometimes, I held it in my hands and cried for those bygone school years.

History repeated itself last week. The eyes of Afghan girls were once again wet with tears and the pain of being deprived of school. Who is responsible for this deprivation of Afghan girls?  The Taliban? The international community? Or both? 

The Taliban have taken the issue of girls' education hostage and want to extort it from the international community. They have never considered it as a human right that has to be restored.

“The Taliban have taken the issue of girls' education hostage and want to extort it from the international community. They have never considered it as a human right that has to be restored.”

 For the past eight months, the international community has also been unable to find a definitive solution. This is not a superficial issue that can be summed up in a few critical tweets by US authorities and senior members of human rights organisations, as well as the international community. Here is the question of the future of millions of girls who have been deliberately deprived of their right to education. This is a psychological torment, not only for these girls, but also for their parents and families. 

 The Taliban are playing with the spirit of the Afghan people. Poverty and hunger, on the one hand, and deprivation of work and education, on the other, are making people suffer.

How could  the Taliban first announce the reopening of the girl secondary and high schools, but stop them again hours after reopening?

Arezoo Rahmani, the principal of a high school in Kabul, explained to me the situation: “We were told by the ministry of education that schools would start this year from elementary to high school. Everything was in order. Curricula, timetables and books were prepared. As school personnel, we were ready to say welcome to our students. 

“It was around 9 am. Some girls had already arrived at school, others were on their way to school, when I got a WhatsApp message that was circulated by superiors to say that the girls above sixth grade should not be allowed to return to school until the next order.”

She added: “After reading this message, I was crying because I did not know how to tell these girls to go back home.”

 The Taliban’s official response gave little explanation. Education ministry spokesman Aziz Ahmad Rayan said to the media: “We are not allowed to comment on this.” But some Taliban representatives urged that the reason for the withdrawal was the lack of a system, as well as the lack of a design for female students' uniform that complied with Islamic law.

 This is despite the fact that, in general, the uniforms of students in girls' schools in Afghanistan are completely covered. This black dress and white scarf do not contradict the Islamic hijab and Afghan culture. However, teachers and adolescent students had previously been told to observe the hijab and wear long black dress.

“About 15 days before the start of the school term, as principals of girls' schools, we had a seminar with the Taliban head of education of Kabul city. He gave us all the necessary guidance regarding the education system in the school year that was about to begin. 

“One of the discussed issues was the uniform of female school staff and students. We were told to remind teachers and students to observe the hijab (clothing in which the beauty of the body and hair are not visible). We conveyed the message to our personnel and students, and it was done. Now we do not know why everything fell apart again,” Rahmani said.

 In brief, nothing has been clear in the Taliban regime, and they have been not faithful to their promises. If the Taliban really want to establish a legitimate government, they have to respect the demand and inclinations of the Afghan people and the international community.

But if they continue to break their promises in order to appease the hard-line Taliban, it will cause them political isolation as in the 1990s.