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A year out of college, the Taliban banned her from school

A year out of college, the Taliban banned her from school

As her first day of school under the Taliban approached, Sajida Hussaini was hopeful. Her father, a teacher for 17 years, and her mother had instilled in her and her siblings the value of education, and now she was a year away from finishing high school.

Although the Taliban took control of the country last summer, ending many of the rights she and other Afghan girls had enjoyed all their lives, the regime announced it would reopen schools on March 23 and allow girls to go.

But when Sajida and her classmates arrived at the school’s front gate, the administrators informed them that girls beyond sixth grade were no longer allowed to enter the classrooms. Many girls burst into tears. “I will never forget that moment in my life,” Sajida said. “It was a dark day.”

Sajida was one of an estimated one million girls in Afghanistan preparing to return to their classrooms after an eight-month hiatus. With the Taliban in power in the first decades of the 21st century, girls and women across the country had gained new freedoms that were suddenly thrown into question when the fundamentalist group swept through Kabul in August. In their first statements to the international community, the Taliban signaled that they would relax some of their policies restricting women’s rights, including the ban on education. But that didn’t happen, and when the day schools reopened came, it dawned on Sajida and others that the Taliban intended to maintain their long-standing restrictions, sweeping away any optimism. that the regime would show more ideological flexibility in pursuit of international credibility. . In addition to maintaining its ban on girls’ schooling, the Taliban has ordered women to cover themselves from head to toe in public and banned them from working outside the home, traveling abroad without a male guardian and participate in demonstrations.

For a generation of girls raised to aspire to the professional class, the restrictions imposed by the Taliban shattered, or at least postponed, the dreams they had harbored since their earliest memories.

Born into a middle-class Shia family, Sajida had always assumed that she would finish college and one day earn enough money to care for her parents when they were old.

“My parents raised me with hope and fear,” she said. I hope she can enjoy the rights denied to previous generations of girls who grew up under the former Taliban regime; fear that the country will one day return to the rule of people “who do not believe that girls constitute half of human society”.

She started attending school at the age of 7 and quickly fell in love with reading, devouring every novel she could get her hands on.

“I planned to study Persian literature to be a good writer and reflect on the wounds and fate of my society,” Sajida said.

Even in the years since the Taliban left power, Sajida has witnessed dozens of attacks by militant groups on schools and academic centers around Kabul.

In May 2021, ISIS bombed a school for Shia girls, killing at least 90 girls and injuring 200 others.

Despite the risk of facing violence, she continued to attend school, finishing grade 11 last year before the Taliban seized Kabul and dashed her hopes of completing her education high school and go to college.

The sudden change in fate has devastated parents across the country who have invested years and savings to secure career opportunities for their daughters.

In the southeastern province of Ghazni, 150 kilometers west of Kabul, Ibrahim Shah said he had done years of manual labor to earn enough money to send his children to school. His 25-year-old daughter Belqis graduated from university a year ago, just months before the Taliban took over. She had aspired to work as a civil servant for her country and be a role model for the generation of girls raised to dream big. Now she doesn’t know what she’s going to do. The return of the Taliban “was a dark day for Afghan women and girls”, she said.

In response to Taliban policy, the UN Security Council convened a special meeting and called on “the Taliban to respect the right to education and uphold their commitments to reopen schools for all female students without further delay”. The European Union and the United States also issued convictions.

“The Taliban authorities have repeatedly assured publicly that all girls can go to school,” Liz Throssell, spokeswoman for the UN Human Rights Office in Geneva, told BuzzFeed News. “We urge them to honor this commitment and immediately reverse the ban to allow girls of all ages across the country to return to their classrooms safely.”

In response to the ban, the World Bank announced in March that it would reconsider funding $600 million for four projects in Afghanistan aimed “to meet urgent needs in the education, health and agriculture, as well as community livelihoods.

Under international pressure, the Taliban announced it was setting up an eight-member commission to deliberate its policy on girls’ schools. Sajida and four other girls who spoke to BuzzFeed News expressed skepticism that the regime would allow them to return to their classrooms.

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