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EDITORIAL: A year after the Taliban swept to power in Afghanistan the girls secondary schools remain shut. Head of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan Markus Potzel issued a statement the other day expressing his disquiet that more than a million teenage girls have been deprived of education across the country.

This, he averred, “is a tragic, shameful and entirely avoidable anniversary”, adding that the ban had no parallel in the world. According to the Taliban, they want education for all but give different explanations for it, such as lack of infrastructure, funds, female teachers and concerns about syllabus and hijab. None of these excuses stand to reason.

Girls’ schools have already been there, if not all over the county at least in big cities. Public schools at primary and secondary levels have also been always segregated. And a majority of Afghan women and girls wear the hijab. As regards the syllabus that should be a non-issue; what is being taught in the boys’ schools should be used for educating girls as well.

If the Taliban think girls need to learn about household matters as well they can introduce an additional subject. However, they have been speaking with different voices. Education minister Noorullah Munir, for instance, has been quoted as saying that it is a cultural issue, claiming that many rural people do not like their teenage daughters to go to school.

Even if true, why deny the daughters of countless others the opportunity to attend schools? In fact, media reports say many girls are attending schools hidden in private homes. Meanwhile, minister for public health, Dr Qalandar Ebad, while citing both Islamic teachings (which do not forbid female education) and cultural traditions in the same breath, insisted in an interview with a foreign TV correspondent that education is equally important for the two genders.

According to him, education in the health sector for nursing, midwifery and doctors had been resumed. That though has been allowed so that female patients are examined and provided treatment by females only. But to state the obvious, it won’t be possible any longer for women to become doctors or nurses unless and until girls are back in secondary schools.

At the root of the problem are tensions between the hardliner factions and moderate groups in which the former has gained the upper hand. It is worth noting that earlier this year, i.e., on March 23, the education ministry had opened secondary schools for girls, but within no time they were closed down.

In so doing the new rulers of Afghanistan are harming something they so badly want: diplomatic recognition by the international community. It will remain a sticking point as long as girls are made to stay out of schools.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2022

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