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Afghan Secondary Schools Reopen, With Girls Excluded

Girls attending a school in Herat in October 2017

Afghan girls were excluded from returning to secondary school on September 18, after Afghanistan’s new Taliban rulers ordered only boys and male teachers to return to the classroom.

After ousting the Western-backed government last month, the hard-line Islamist group promised a softer brand of rule than their brutal rule in 1996-2001, when girls were not allowed to attend school and women were banned from work and education.

But in the latest move from the all-male, Taliban-led government to threaten women's rights, the Education Ministry announced late on September 17 that middle schools, high schools, and madrassas for males will reopen the next day, with no mention of women teachers or girl pupils.

The order applies to boys and teenagers from grade six and above and their teachers according to a statement.

"I am so worried about my future," the BBC quoted an Afghan schoolgirl as saying. "Everything looks very dark."

"We lack teachers, most of them are females and are not allowed to come by the new government, that creates a problem for us," an official at a Kabul secondary school who asked not to be named told AFP.

Primary schools have already reopened, with boys and girls attending separate classes and some female teachers returning to work.

In a statement, the UN's children's agency UNICEF welcomed the reopening of secondary schools in Afghanistan after closing down for months due to the coronavirus pandemic.

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But the agency said it was "deeply worried" for the future of girls' schooling in Afghanistan.

"It is critical that all girls, including older girls, are able to resume their education without any further delays. For that, we need female teachers to resume teaching," it said.

For 20 years significant progress has been made in girls' education, with female literacy nearly doubling to 30 percent -- although the change was largely limited to the cities.

Meanwhile, university students of both genders studied in joint classes and did not have to abide by a dress code.

Many Afghans were taken aback when last month the Taliban-led government announced that female university students could continue their studies but only in gender-segregated classes and if they wore a niqab -- an Islamic veil that covers the face -- and abaya -- a loose-fitting and all-covering robe.

In another development on September 17, workers replaced a sign for the department of women's affairs in Kabul with one indicating the ministry would revert to the role it played in the earlier Taliban government as its moral police.

A sign for the building was covered by a replacement reading Ministries of Prayer and Guidance and the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, according to photographs.

A list of cabinet posts announced by the Taliban on September 7 included an acting minister for the promotion of virtue and prevention of vice and made no mention of a department of women's affairs.

During the Taliban’s earlier rule its Ministry for Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice became known as the group's moral police, enforcing its interpretation of Shari’a law that included a strict dress code and public executions and floggings.

With reporting by the BBC and AFP
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