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Afghanistan’s Taliban promise progress on girls’ schooling soon

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid speaks during a news conference in Kabul, Afghanistan September 6, 2021. REUTERS-Stringer

Afghanistan’s Taliban government said it would announce good news soon on older girls being allowed to go back to school, but urged the international community to help it fund the process as most external aid has been halted.

Ensuring rights for women and girls has been one of the most sensitive issues facing the Taliban since they seized power in August, with international bodies demanding proof they were being respected before any discussion of formal recognition of the new government.

In September, the hardline Islamist movement drew global condemnation when it allowed boys to return to the classroom but told older girls to stay home until conditions permitted their return.

“Inshallah we will have a good announcement for the whole country, the whole nation,” Waheedullah Hashimi, Director of External Programmes and Aid at the Ministry of Education, told Reuters in an interview.

In some northern areas, girls have already resumed their education but others are forced to study in hiding and heavy scepticism remains with countries from the United States to Russia demanding they match promises with action.

“Our Ulema (religious scholars) are working on it, and soon inshallah, we will announce it to the world,” Hashimi said.

The effective ban on educating girls beyond primary school echoed decisions by the Taliban’s previous government, between 1996-2001 when women were largely shut out of paid employment and girls were not allowed to go to school.

Hashimi said the movement was committed to educating girls and was working on ways of getting them back to school. He said no women teachers had been laid off, and that this was “a positive message to the world that we are working on a mechanism. We are not working on deleting them from our schools and universities.”

However, Hashimi also said that education, like other areas of government, had been hit hard by the abrupt withdrawal of foreign support following the collapse of the Western-backed government in August and he appealed for aid to be restored.

“If they truly want to see girls in schools, they ought to help us now,” Hashimi said.

While education spending had been increasing slowly under the last government, a UNESCO report said that external aid represented almost half the education budget in 2020.

As well as the issue of girls’ education, Hashimi said the ministry was working on a new curriculum for schools to bring them into line with the principles of Islam, local culture, and international standards.

“The changes will be according to international standards in physics and chemistry and biology and all these science subjects,” Hashimi said, adding that no changes had been made yet to the curriculum.

He said ministry officials had been working closely with international agencies, which he said had reacted positively to the parts they had seen.

However, he cautioned that the system would be set up in a manner that would be agreeable to the Taliban leadership and scholars, and not based on international pressure.

“We want to educate, and we will educate, our women and men – boys and girls.”

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