An Afghan schoolgirl reads from her notebook as another unpacks her school bag inside a house in Kabul, on March 23, 2022. Image Credit: REUTERS

Kabul: The Taliban on Wednesday backtracked on their announcement that high schools would open for girls, saying they would remain closed until a plan was drawn up in accordance with Islamic law for them to reopen.

Teachers and students from three high schools around the capital Kabul said girls had returned in excitement to campuses on Wednesday morning, but were ordered to go home. They said many students left in tears.

“We all got disappointed and we all became totally hopeless when the principal told us, she was also crying,” said a student, not being named for security reasons.

The last time the Taliban ruled Afghanistan, from 1996 to 2001, they banned female education and most employment.

The international community has made the education of girls a key demand for any future recognition of the Taliban administration, which took over the country in August as foreign forces withdrew. The United Nations and United States condemend the reported closures on Wednesday.

The Ministry of Education had announced last week that schools for all students, including girls, would open around the country on Wednesday after months of restrictions on education for high school-aged girls.

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On Tuesday evening a Ministry of Education spokesman released a video congratulating all students on their returning to class.

However on Wednesday a Ministry of Education notice said schools for girls would be closed until a plan was drawn up in accordance with Islamic law and Afghan culture, according to Bakhtar News, a government news agency.

“We inform all girls high schools and those schools that are having female students above class six that they are off until the next order,” said the notice.

The country’s ministry of education spokesman did not respond to calls and messages seeking comment. A Taliban administration source confirmed to Reuters that schools for girls in Kabul would be closed for now, without elaborating.

The Taliban is seeking to run the country according to its interpretation of Islamic law while at the same time accessing billions of dollars in aid that it desperately needs to stave off widespread poverty and hunger.

“The UN in Afghanistan deplores today’s reported announcement by the Taliban that they are further extending their indefinite ban on female students above the 6th grade being permitted to return school,” the United Nations’ Mission to Afghanistan (UNAMA) said in a statement.

The US Charge dAffaires for Afghanistan, Ian McCary, currently based in Qatar, said in a tweet that he was deeply troubled by the reports.

“This is very disappointing & contradicts many Taliban assurances & statements,” he said.

The UN rights chief voiced deep disappointment. “I share the profound frustration and disappointment of Afghan high school girls and women, who after six months of anticipation were prevented from returning to school today,” UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said in a statement.

Exposed to violence

“The de facto authorities’ failure to adhere to commitments to reopen schools for girls above the sixth grade - in spite of repeated commitments towards girls’ education, including during my visit to Kabul two weeks ago - is deeply damaging for Afghanistan,” she said.

The UN rights chief warned that “the denial of education violates the human rights of women and girls.

“Beyond their equal right to education, it leaves them more exposed to violence, poverty and exploitation.”

Bachelet stressed that “this is of grave concern at a time when the country desperately needs to overcome multiple intersecting crises.

“Disempowering half of Afghanistan’s population is counterproductive and unjust,” she added.

“Structural discrimination such as this is also deeply damaging for the country’s prospects of future recovery and development.”

Bachelet said the women she had met during her visit to Kabul had told her “they have information, solutions and the capability to help chart a way out of this economic, humanitarian and human rights crisis in Afghanistan.

“They insisted upon the equal right to quality education at the primary, secondary and tertiary levels and were hopefully awaiting the reopening of schools today.

“I call on the de facto authorities to respect all girls’ rights to education and to open schools for all students without discrimination or further delay.”