WLD 210314 AFGHAN SCHOOL-1615734194105
In this October 7, 2020 file picture, Afghan students attend an open air class at a primary school in Kabul. An Afghan education ministry memo banning girls, 12 years old and older, from singing at public school functions, which the education ministry said was a mistake, is causing a social media stir. Image Credit: AP

Kabul: The Afghan government has reversed a ban on schoolgirls over the age of 12 singing in public at official ceremonies after mounting backlash including a social media campaign of videos uploaded by Afghan girls and women singing their favourite songs in protest.

The ban was issued last week by the Kabul education directorate in the form of a letter and the criticism was almost instant. Officials chastised the move. And within days, dozens of videos were uploaded to Facebook, Twitter and other social media platforms marked with the hashtag #IAmMySong.

Late Saturday night the Ministry of Education issued a statement that the ban “does not reflect the positions or policies of the Ministry,” and that it is investigating the matter.

The controversy comes as Afghan leaders are negotiating with the Taliban to end decades of war. The peace talks underway in Doha are intended to tackle issues such as the rights of women and minorities, but the two sides have not yet officially discussed such matters. Many civil society and human rights activists fear that if the two sides agree to a power sharing government, gains made over the past 20 years in areas such as women’s rights could be lost.

Under Taliban in the 1990s, Afghan girls’ schools were forcibly shut and the militants imposed harsh restrictions on women largely excluding them from public life.

“We won’t let anyone silence our voices. We should stand up for the future of our daughters,” Laila Frogh Mohammadi, a female activist wrote on Twitter along with a video of her singing along to a popular Afghan song that included the lyrics “it is difficult, but we must pass through.”

Afghan officials also came out in criticism of the prohibition.

“No individual or institution is allowed to set limits on the citizens of this country which contradicts to the spirit of this country’s constitution,” Waheed Omar, President Ashraf Ghani’s senior communication adviser tweeted Saturday.

The Education Ministry statement said moving forward it supports the participation of “all students” in social activities including singing groups “and takes pride in their involvement.”