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HRW Says Donors Should Link Afghan Aid To Taliban's Observing Rights For Girls, Women

Afghan girls and women protest in Kabul in November against the Taliban's restrictions on their access to education.

International aid should be tied to the Taliban respecting human rights, in particular women's and girls' right to education, Human Rights Watch said in a new report as the militant group pledged to reopen all girls' secondary schools on March 23.

"International donors seeking to fund education for girls and women in Afghanistan should carefully consider and address the human rights concerns," said the 13-page report titled Four Ways to Support Girls’ Access to Education in Afghanistan.

The report describes methods that would allow donors to press for human rights in their dealings with the Taliban’s education system and urges them to show support for "full access to quality education for Afghan girls and women."

“Access to education is about much more than whether the gate in front of the school is unlocked,” said Heather Barr, associate women’s rights director at Human Rights Watch. “Donors need to find ways to induce the Taliban to respect the rights of girls and women to education.”

The militant group, which took power in August last year, ordered boys’ secondary schools reopened on September 18, but most girls’ secondary schools have remained closed, which HRW called "one of the Taliban’s many violations of girls and women’s rights since they gained control of the country."

Now the Taliban has said it would open all girls' secondary schools on March 23, but HRW cautioned in the report that "simply reopening schools will not ensure access to quality education," counting the main obstacles faced by girls and women in their quest for education, such as fear of violence, surveillance, and intimidation from the Taliban, a shortage of teachers caused by a failure to pay their salaries, Taliban changes to the curriculum, and the impact of the current humanitarian crisis.

Women have been barred from paid employment in most professions, except as teachers for girls and health-care workers for women, and donors should take into account whether the current situation enables and incentivizes education, HRW said.

“Why would you and your family make huge sacrifices for you to study if you can never have the career you dreamed of?” asked Sahar Fetrat, an Afghan human rights activist who is an assistant researcher at Human Rights Watch.

“Reopening girls’ secondary schools in Afghanistan is a crucial step, but it will not be enough to ensure access to education for girls and women,” she added.

The report recommends donors tackle their concerns in direct discussions with the militant group and warn that aid and assistance will depend on whether local and central authorities are preventing women and girls from going to school and making a living.

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