The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Taliban reopens high school for boys, but makes no mention of female students

Afghan boys read the Koran in a madrassa, or religious school, during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan in Kabul on April 18. (Omar Sobhani/Reuters)
Placeholder while article actions load

After month-long closures affecting many schools in Kabul and across Afghanistan following the Taliban’s return to power, the group released a statement Friday ordering officials to oversee the reopening of “madrassas, private and public schools and other academic institutions of the country” on Saturday — for middle and high school boys, at least. The statement did not mention girls.

“All male students and male teachers must be present at their schools,” the announcement read.

Though the statement did not explicitly address schooling for high school girls, some Afghans read meaning into the conspicuous absence. The announcement was met with public outrage, criticism and confusion on social media.

Qudsia Qanbary, a female high school teacher, said in a Facebook post that boys and male colleagues should boycott school. “If I was a boy, I would not go to school unless my sister can also go to school,” she said.

“Banning girls from attending school is like burying them alive. Don’t let this nightmare turn into reality,” Aryan Aroon, an activist and writer from Afghanistan who left the country before the Taliban took over, told The Post. Friday’s announcement is “just beginning,” he said.

Some primary schools have already opened across Afghanistan, and girls up to grade 6 have attended. Female students have also attended university classes.

Bilal Karimi, a Taliban spokesperson, told The Washington Post he did not know about any decision of the Education Ministry to open schools for boys but keep them closed for girls. “We are committed to the education of boys and girls and to have an educated generation,” said Karimi, refusing to comment on the statement that left out mention of girls.

Acting minister of higher education Abdul Baqi Haqqani had announced Sept. 12 that women would be allowed to study in universities and postgraduate programs — though he added, “we will not allow female and male students to study in one classroom. Coeducation is in opposition to sharia law.”

The Taliban is bringing back its feared ministry of ‘vice’ and ‘virtue’

In a separate development Friday, which stoked fears of a return to the past, the Taliban replaced signs for the Ministry of Women’s Affairs with the signs for the Ministry of Virtue and Vice, the Taliban’s “moral police” that operated during its last years in rule in the 1990s. Photos circulated on social media pages showed Afghan workers taking down the women’s ministry sign and installing a new sign reading “Ministries of Prayer and Guidance and the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice” in Dari and Arabic.

During the Taliban’s last rule from 1996 to 2001, schools for girls were shuttered and women were banned from going to work. Many women who walked unaccompanied in public spaces faced beatings. The moral police enforced the group’s strict interpretation of sharia law, including a conservative dress code and public executions for moral violations.

“There is deep symbolism in transforming a ministry of women for women to a ministry of men to control women,” Obaidullah Baheer, a lecturer at American University of Afghanistan, said in a tweet. “Such a missed opportunity of showing tolerance toward more than half of Afghanistan’s population.”

Space for dissent opened in Afghanistan after the Taliban was ousted 20 years ago. Now the militants are trying to slam it shut.

As the Taliban has organized its government, women have increasingly lost their places in public spaces. No women were given positions in the Taliban’s caretaker cabinet. Though senior Taliban officials, including spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid, have said that women would eventually be asked to return to work, women still have not been able to go back to their jobs.

In recent weeks, Afghan women across major cities have taken to the streets in rare public demonstrations against the Taliban limiting women’s right to work and seek education. Many see the Taliban’s declarations on respecting women’s civil rights as empty promises and are demanding immediate action to preserve the rights they have had for two decades.