Afghanistan, secret schools for girls: “Education can save us from this darkness”

Hidden in a residential neighborhood is one of the new ones “secret” schools in Afghanistan, a small but powerful act of defiance against the Taliban. A dozen teenage girls are doing a math class. “We know we’re taking big risks and we’re worried – says the BBC’s only professor, but adds that Girls’ education is worth more than “any risk”. In every province in the country except a handful, the government has ordered closure of high schools for girls. That is why illegal and secret initiatives are multiplying to ensure that they have training. “We do our best to work in secret,” she added, “but even if they stop me and beat me, it will be worth it.”

Closed schools and secret schools: the Taliban challenge

High schools remain closed in Afghanistan, so many students turn to brave teachers who set up secret schools

In March it seemed girls ’schools were about to reopen. But just an hour after the students arrived, the Taliban leadership announced a sudden rethink. For secret school students visited by the BBC crew, and for many other teenagers, the pain is still alive. “Two months have passed and the schools have not yet reopened,” said a 19-year-old in the makeshift class. it makes me very sad“She added that she could barely hold back her tears. But there was also an air of defiance in the room. Another 15-year-old girl wanted to send a message to her classmates in Afghanistan:”Be brave, if you are strong no one will be able to stop you ”. They are held at the secret school classes of one or two hours a day, focused on math, biology, chemistry and physics. The responsible teacher knows that there are many other teenagers who would like to attend, but the lack of space and resources in addition to they don’t need to be noticed by government officials, it prevents him from welcoming them all. The woman does not trust the possibility that the usual institutions will be able to reopen soon, but she is determined to do everything possible: “As an educated woman, it is my duty,” she told the BBC. Education can save us from this darkness“.

Women’s education in Afghanistan

Afghan women
During the first Taliban regime, in the 1990s, all girls and boys were banned from going to school.

Back in power, the Taliban said that before girls’ schools could reopen, the right had to be created. “Islamic environment“, Although, since the facilities are already there divided by gender, it is not clear what this meant. However, officials have repeatedly publicly insisted on reopening, and also admit that for them, women’s education is a “sensitive” issue. When they were in power in the 1990s, not all girls could go to school, apparently for “security reasons”. And even today, according to multiple sources in the BBC, a handful of individuals in the group, among the most traditional and very influential, still seem to be in favor of this line. Instead, other Taliban members expressed their views disappointment for the decision not to reopen the girls ’schools. The Taliban Ministry of Education itself seemed surprised when the leadership stepped back abruptly in March, while senior Taliban officials are believed to be educating their daughters in Qatar or Pakistan.

In recent weeks, some clerics linked to the Taliban themselves have issued “fatwa“, that is to say religious decrees in support of girls’ right to education. Sheikh Rahimullah Haqqani, an Afghan cleric who works mainly at the border in Peshawar, Pakistan, is highly respected by Koranic students, and last month, during a trip to Kabul, he met with senior government officials. “There is no justification, in sharia, to say that female education is not allowed. There is no justification, “she told the BBC.” All religious books say that female education is allowed and compulsory, because, for example, if a woman becomes ill, in an Islamic environment such as Afghanistan or Pakistan, and needs treatment, is much better than being cared for by a doctor. “

Sheikh Rahimullah Haqqani
Sheikh Rahimullah Haqqani, close to the Taliban, argues that Sharia law does not justify girls not attending school.

Meanwhile the international political forces they have repeatedly reiterated that advances in women’s rights are key to allowing the Taliban access to some of the billions of dollars in frozen foreign reserves. And while Afghan rights activists are trying to ensure that a generation of girls is not left behind, there are even some in the state who risk their lives every day to secure a future for their country.

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