Unique Effort Reopens Girls’ School in an Afghan Province

    02 December 2021

    High school girls are at staying home almost everywhere in Afghanistan because Taliban rulers will not permit them to go to school.

    There is, however, one exception.

    For weeks, girls in the western province of Herat have been back in high school classrooms. This comes after an effort by teachers and parents to work with the local Taliban administrators to reopen the schools.

    Afghan girls listen their teacher at Tajrobawai Girls High School, in Herat, Afghanistan, Thursday, Nov. 25, 2021. (AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)
    Afghan girls listen their teacher at Tajrobawai Girls High School, in Herat, Afghanistan, Thursday, Nov. 25, 2021. (AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)

    Taliban officials never officially approved the reopening. But they also did not stop it when classes started in early October.

    "Parents, students and teachers joined hand in hand to do this," said Mohammed Saber Meshaal. He is the head of the Herat teachers' group, which helped organize the campaign.

    The success in Herat shows the difference in the Taliban's current rule over Afghanistan from their rule in the late 1990s. In their earlier rule, the Taliban banned women from public life and would not permit girls to attend school. They used force and punishments to enforce the rules.

    Now, the Taliban seem to understand that they cannot act the same way. In the past 20 years, Afghanistan has changed. Women are out in public and some have professional lives. The Taliban have been unclear about what is permitted and what is not permitted.

    Many think the Taliban do not want to create additional problems as they try to get control of an economy that is near collapse. The group also faces the possible loss of international financial support and the dangerous growth of the Islamic State in the country.

    That has left a narrow path where Afghans can try to push back.

    When the Taliban took power in August, most schools were closed because of COVID-19. Following international pressure, the Taliban soon reopened schools for girls in grades 1-6, along with boys' schools at all levels.

    They have not permitted girls in grades 7-12 to return, saying they must be certain the classes are held in an "Islamic manner." The Taliban also barred most women from government jobs, their largest place of employment.

    In Herat province, however, teachers quickly began to organize.

    "When the Taliban came, we were very worried, because of everything before," said Basira Basiratkhah. She is the head of the Tajrobawai Girls School in Herat.

    They met with the local Taliban leader and head of the education department to build a relationship. When they asked for a reopening, Taliban officials refused, saying they could not permit it without an order from the government in Kabul. The teachers continued to ask.

    Basiratkhah said they told the Taliban, "We don't need to change anything. We are Muslims and we already observe everything Islam requires."

    By October, the teachers and parents felt they could reopen. But many were worried. "We had concerns, and we have them still," said Mastoura, a parent with two daughters at the school. "But daughters must get an education. Without education, your life is held back."

    School reopening

    Fadieh Ismailzadeh is a 14-year-old in the ninth grade. She said she cried with happiness at the news. "We had lost all hope that schools would reopen," she added.

    Not all the students showed up when the doors opened. But as parents became more confident, classes filled after a few days, Basiratkhah said.

    On a recent day, girls in a chemistry class listened as a teacher explained the elements that make up water.

    Shehabeddin Saqeb is the Taliban education director for Herat province. He says the group has no problems with girls going to school.

    "We openly tell everyone that they should come to school," he told The Associated Press. "The schools are open without any problem. We never issued any official order saying high-school-aged girls should not go to school."

    A full reopening of girls' schools must likely happen before United Nations' agencies will agree to pay teachers. So far, the Taliban have refused to set a date for reopening and most schools are starting a winter break until March.

    In a speech Saturday, Taliban Prime Minister Mohammed Hassan Akhund said "women are already getting an education," adding only: "There is hope to broaden it, as God allows."

    I'm Susan Shand

    The Associated Press reported this story. Susan Shand adapted it for Learning English. Hai Do was the editor.


    Words in This Story

    province - n. any one of the large parts that some countries are divided into

    broaden - v. to become wider or more general

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