‘Shameful’: UN denounces exclusion of Afghan girls from school

UN increasingly concerned the ‘tragic’ policy and other restrictions on basic freedoms will contribute to a deepening of the economic crisis.

Afghan women and girls take part in a protest in Kabul.
Afghan women and girls take part in a protest in front of the education ministry in Kabul [File: Ahmad Sahel Arman/AFP]

The United Nations has called for Afghanistan’s Taliban rulers to reopen schools to girls in classes seven to 12, calling the anniversary of their exclusion from high school “shameful”.

The UN said on Sunday it is increasingly concerned that the policy, together with other restrictions on basic freedoms, will contribute to a deepening of the country’s economic crisis in the form of greater insecurity, poverty and isolation.

“This is a tragic, shameful, and entirely avoidable anniversary,” said Markus Potzel, acting head of the UN mission in Afghanistan.

A year after the Taliban took power in Afghanistan, teenage girls are still barred from school and women are required to cover themselves from head to toe in public.

“A year of lost knowledge and opportunity that they will never get back,” UN chief Antonio Guterres tweeted on Sunday. “Girls belong in school. The Taliban must let them back in.”

The Taliban has failed to deliver on various promises to enable girls’ return to the classroom.

The ban targets female students of classes seven to 12, primarily affecting girls aged 12 to 18. The Taliban reopened high schools to boys while instructing girls to remain at home.

The UN estimates more than one million girls have been barred from attending high school over the past year.

“The ongoing exclusion of girls from high school has no credible justification and has no parallel anywhere in the world. It is profoundly damaging to a generation of girls and to the future of Afghanistan itself,” said Potzel.

‘Denied human rights’

To mark the Sunday anniversary, 50 girls sent a letter titled A Year of Darkness: A Letter from Afghan girls to heads of Muslim countries and other world leaders. The girls hail from the capital, Kabul, eastern Nangarhar province, and northern Parwan province.

“The past year, we have been denied human rights, such as the right to attain an education, the privilege to work, the liberty to live with dignity, freedom, mobility and speech, and the right to determine and decide for ourselves,” Azadi, an 18-year-old 11th-grade student from Kabul, said in the letter.

The girls named in the letter gave only their first names. The UN said denying education violates the most fundamental rights of girls and women. The world body said it increases the risk of marginalisation, violence, exploitation and abuse against girls and is part of a broader range of discriminatory policies and practices targeting women and girls since the de facto authorities assumed power in the summer of 2021.

The UN again called upon the Taliban to reverse the slew of measures it has introduced restricting Afghan women and girls’ enjoyment of their basic rights and freedoms.

According to UNICEF, three million girls are unable to complete their secondary school education because of restrictions imposed by the Taliban.

Since returning to power, the Taliban has struggled to govern as it remains diplomatically isolated. Freezing of Afghan funds worth billions of dollars by the West and the country’s exclusion from global financial institutions have largely contributed to the near collapse of the country’s aid-dependent economy.

More than half of Afghanistan’s 39 million people need humanitarian help and six million are at risk of famine, according to the UN.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies