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New Delhi: Schools opened for boys in grades seven to twelve Saturday in Afghanistan, but there is still no word on when girls may be able to return to their classes.

In a statement Friday, the Taliban government said, “All male teachers and students should attend their educational institutions.”.

The Taliban’s education ministry announced the reopening of all state and private schools at primary and secondary level as well as official madrasa religious schools, which were shut for the past month due to Covid-19 and the prevailing security situation.

However, the announcement has kicked up a storm on social media, with several activists, journalists and analysts viewing this as a sign that the Taliban government, which returned to power in Afghanistan last month, will follow its previous hardline policies.

Women were barred from jobs or education during the last Taliban rule in 1996-2001.

Since the militant group grabbed power in the country last month, it has assured women that they will be allowed to work and pursue education.

While girls up to grade six and those in universities have been allowed to attend classes, high schools for female students have been closed.

Pakistani activist and Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Malala Yousafzai, called the exclusion of girls from the announcement “shameful”.

“In the past, the Taliban imposed a “temporary” ban on girls’ education that lasted five years. They are testing our resolve,” she tweeted Saturday.

Last week, several women also took to the streets of Kabul to protest the Taliban regime, and some held placards that read “No government can deny the presence of women” and “I will sing freedom over and over”.

Earlier this month, women protested in Herat to demand their rights to employment and education.

Also read: Afghanistan is the new epicentre for extended India–Pakistan rivalry, after Kashmir

Media calls it ‘ban’, UNICEF says girls should not be left out

Some media reports interpreted the Taliban-run education ministry’s latest statement as an effective “ban” on girls’ education.

“The Taliban have effectively banned girls from secondary education in Afghanistan, by ordering high schools to re-open only for boys,” reported The Guardian Friday.

Journalist Sune Engel Rasmussen similarly said: “…the Taliban have de facto banned girls’ secondary education for the 1st time since their regime in the 90s”.

Meanwhile, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) welcomed the announcement, however, it stressed that the girls should not be left out.

“UNICEF welcomes news that secondary schools in Afghanistan will be open tomorrow after closing down for months due to COVID-19. We are deeply worried, however, that many girls may not be allowed back at this time,” read a statement Friday.

It added that for girls to be able to resume their education without any further delays, female teachers need to be able to resume teaching.

As for higher education, Higher Education Minister Abdul Baqi Haqqani earlier this week indicated that women will be allowed to study, but not alongside men, reported the BBC.

He added that Afghan universities will be segregated by gender and a new dress code will be enforced.

The Guardian report, however, pointed out that if high schools do not reopen for girls, the commitments to allow university education would become “meaningless”.

Also read: Kabul drone strike was ‘tragic error’, killed Afghan civilians: Top US military commander


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