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Taliban inspects girls’ schools, expels hundreds of pubescent students

A Taliban fighter (right) searches the bags of people coming out of the Kabul airport in Kabul on August 16, 2021. (Wakil Kohsar/AFP via Getty Images/TNS)

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

Razia was expelled from her school in the southern Afghan province of Kandahar last month. The Taliban told the 14-year-old that she was “told old” to study.

“I’m not alone,” she told RFE/RL’s Radio Azadi. “Many girls my age have been forced out of school.”

In recent weeks, the Taliban has carried out inspections of girls’ schools in the province and expelled hundreds of pubescent female students. They have joined the estimated 3 million girls in Afghanistan who are being deprived of an education.

Since seizing power last year, the militant group has barred girls who are 13 or older or above the sixth grade from attending school.

The expulsions in Kandahar are part of the Taliban’s enforcement of its deeply controversial ban, which has fueled protests inside the country and attracted international condemnation.

According to the Taliban’s extremist view of Islamic Shari’a law, girls who have reached puberty must be segregated from male students and teachers. The militants have claimed that, due to a shortage of female teachers, they cannot permit pubescent girls to attend school. Before the Taliban takeover, many girls’ schools were already segregated.

The Taliban has not given exceptions to girls who started school late, had to repeat school, or have learning disabilities.

Fawzia, a 15-year-old who was in the fifth grade, was expelled from her school in Kandahar’s Daman district last month. She said the Taliban kicked out more than 100 girls from her school alone after carrying out an inspection.

“We want the [Taliban] to open our schools so we can build a prosperous future,” said Fawzia. “I want to be a doctor so I can serve my country.”

“I felt terrible when we were ordered to leave our classes and told not to come back,” said Gulalai, another 15-year-old girl in the fifth grade from Daman district. “We are now in a very tough situation.”

Mawlawi Fakhruddin Naqshbandi, the provincial head of the Taliban’s Education Ministry in Kandahar, confirmed the expulsions. He said girls who were 13 or older or had reached puberty were being expelled.

Rare Display Of Defiance

Afghan women and girls have taken to the streets to protest the Taliban’s ban and demand their basic rights since the militant group seized power in August 2021.

Last month, schoolgirls, women, and even Afghan elders openly demonstrated their support for girls’ education in social media posts and street protests across the country, in a rare display of defiance under the Taliban.

The protests came after recently opened girls’ schools in the southeastern province of Paktia were suddenly closed again, and a top Taliban official stated that Afghans do not back education for girls.

More recently, a deadly suicide bombing on September 30 that killed dozens of girls and women in Kabul triggered some of the largest and most sustained protests against Taliban rule.

Defying the Taliban’s ban on unsanctioned rallies, women held rallies in the cities of Kabul, Herat, Mazar-e Sharif, and Ghazni and the provinces of Bamiyan and Kapisa. The demonstrators rallied against the Taliban government’s restrictions on women and its inability to protect ethnic and religious minorities.

Activists say the Taliban’s ban has been unpopular in Kandahar, part of the conservative Pashtun heartland where the Taliban first emerged in the 1990s.

“All Afghans support education,” Ahmad Shah Spar, a local activist, told Radio Azadi. “This has been proved by the protests and the campaigning of thousands of women and men.”

Since returning to power, the Taliban has imposed a raft of restrictions on women and girls, including on their appearance, access to work and education, and freedom of movement. The rules are reminiscent of the Taliban’s first stint in power from 1996 to 2001, when the group deprived women of their most basic rights.

The Taliban initially promised to respect women’s rights within the framework of Islam.

But in an October 5 report, global human rights watchdog Amnesty International said the Taliban’s systematic attacks on the rights of women and girls were aimed at “completely erasing” them from public life.

“The ban on secondary education for girls, in particular, threatens to do generational damage to girls and women of the country,” the report said.