Sajida Husseini is hopeful as her first day of school under Taliban rule approaches. Her father, a teacher for 17 years, and her mother, who instilled the value of education in her and her siblings, are now a year away from graduating high school.
Although the Taliban took over the country last summer, marking the end of many of the rights she and other Afghan girls have enjoyed throughout their lives, the regime has announced it will reopen schools and allow girls to attend on March 23.
But when Sajida and her classmates arrived at the school’s front door, administrators informed them that girls above sixth grade were no longer allowed into the classroom. Many girls burst into tears. “I will never forget that moment in my life,” Sajida said. “It was a dark day.”
Sajida is one of about 1 million girls in Afghanistan preparing to return to the classroom after an eight-month hiatus. As the Taliban lost power in the early decades of the 21st century, girls and women across the country gained new freedoms that suddenly came into question when fundamentalist groups swept Kabul in August. In an early statement to the international community, the Taliban said it would ease some policies restricting women’s rights, including a ban on education. But that wasn’t the case, and when the day came to reopen schools, Sajida and others suddenly realized that the Taliban intended to maintain their long-standing restrictions, removing an ideology that the regime would show in its quest for international credibility. Any optimism about flexibility. In addition to maintaining the ban on girls going to school, the Taliban has ordered women to cover themselves from head to toe in public and barred them from working outside their homes, traveling abroad without a male guardian, and participating in protests.
For a generation of girls eager to enter the professional class, Taliban restrictions have shattered, or at least delayed the dream they’ve held since their earliest memories.
Born into a middle-class Shiite family, Sajida always thought she had completed her college education and could one day earn enough money to care for her aging parents.
“My parents raised me with hope and fear,” she said. Hope she can enjoy the rights denied to previous generations of girls who grew up under previous Taliban rule; fear that the country will one day fall back under the control of those who “do not believe that girls make up half of human society”.
She started school at age 7 and quickly fell in love with reading, reading every novel she could get her hands on.
“I plan to study Persian literature and become a good writer, reflecting on the traumas and plight of my society,” Sajida said.
Even in the years since the Taliban was ousted from power, Sajida has witnessed dozens of attacks by armed groups on schools and academic centers around Kabul.
In May 2021, the Islamic State bombed a Shia girls’ school, killing at least 90 girls and injuring 200 others.
Despite the risks of violence, she continued school, finishing Year 11 last year, before the Taliban took over Kabul, leaving her hopes of finishing high school and university hanging in the balance.
The sudden turn of fortunes has devastated parents across the country, who have invested years and savings to secure their daughters’ chances of career success.
In the southeastern Ghazni province, 150 kilometers west of Kabul, Ibrahim Shah said he earned enough money to send his children to school after years of manual labor. His daughter Belkis, 25, graduated from college a year ago, just a few months before the Taliban took power. She aspired to be her country’s civil servant and set an example for a generation of girls with dreams. Now she doesn’t know what to do. She said the return of the Taliban was “a dark day for Afghan women and girls”.
In response to the Taliban’s policies, the UN Security Council held a special session, calling on “the Taliban to respect the right to education, keep their promises, and reopen schools for all female students without further delay.” The European Union and the United States also issued condemnations.
The Taliban “authorities have repeatedly and publicly assured that all girls can go to school,” Liz Srosser, a spokeswoman for the UN Human Rights Office in Geneva, told BuzzFeed News. “We urge them to make good on this promise and immediately lift the ban so girls of all ages across the country can safely return to classrooms.”
In response to the ban, the World Bank announced in March that it would reconsider $600 million in funding for four projects in Afghanistan that “support the urgent needs of the education, health and agricultural sectors, and community livelihoods.” .
Under international pressure, the Taliban announced it would form an eight-member committee to consider its policy on girls’ schools. Sajida and four other girls interviewed by BuzzFeed News expressed doubts about whether authorities would allow them to return to the classroom.