Afghan women and girls took to the streets in the capital Kabul on Saturday to protest against the Taliban’s decision to shut their secondary schools just hours after reopening them this week.
The announcement by the Taliban that girl’s school would reopen was welcomed by thousands of jubilant girls across Afghanistan as they flocked to high schools on 23 March – the date the education ministry had set for classes to resume.
But just hours into the first day, the ministry announced a shock policy reversal that left the youngsters saying they felt betrayed and foreign governments expressing outrage.
About two dozen protesters chanted “open the schools! Justice, justice!” on Saturday, some carrying school books as they gathered at a city square in Kabul.
They held banners that said: “Education is our fundamental right, not a political plan” as they marched for a short distance, before dispersing when Taliban fighters arrived at the scene.
The Taliban have not given a clear reason for their decision, which came after a meeting late on Tuesday of senior officials in the southern city of Kandahar, the movement’s de facto power centre and spiritual heartland.
It followed months of work by some foreign countries on a plan to support the payment of teachers’ wages.
Afghan girls have now been out of education for more than seven months.
Since returning to power on 15 August last year, the Taliban have rolled back two decades of gains made by the country’s women, who have been squeezed out of many government jobs, barred from travelling alone, and ordered to dress according to a strict interpretation of the Quran.
The Taliban had promised a softer version of the harsh rule that characterised their first stint in power from 1996 to 2001.
But many restrictions have still been imposed on women – if not at the national level then implemented locally at the whim of regional officials.
Some Afghan women initially pushed back against the Taliban’s curbs, holding small protests where they demanded the right to education and work.
But the Taliban soon rounded up the ringleaders, holding them incommunicado while denying that they had been detained.
Since their release, most have gone silent and Saturday’s protest was the first one held by women in weeks. (Source: The Straits Times)