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The Taliban banned Afghan girls from school 1,000 days ago, but some brave young women refuse to accept it.
Posted by Temmy
Sat, June 08, 2024 2:28am


The Taliban banned Afghan girls from school 1,000 days ago, but some brave young women refuse to accept it.
Sherin, whose real name CBS News is not using, teaches a class of teenage girls at a clandestine school supported by the Pohana Fund, in Afghanistan's southern Helmand province, in early June 2024. OBTAINED BY CBS NEWS

June 8 marks 1,000 days since the Taliban banned girls over the age of 12 from all schools in Afghanistan. The ban, issued just days after the group retook control over Afghanistan in 2021, has left hundreds of thousands of girls with little hope of a formal education.

Human Rights Watch said in a statement marking the 1,000 days that Afghan society "will never fully recover" from the loss of so many future female professionals, especially in a country that was already struggling with low youth literacy rates.

The United Nations accuses the Taliban of enforcing a "gender apartheid" with its draconian edicts, policies and system of institutionalized discrimination against women and girls, calling Afghanistan under the hard-line Islamists a "graveyard of buried hopes."

A last, risky hope for education
Despite the risks, however, many Afghan girls have refused to give up hope, and they've turned to unofficial schools hidden away from the eyes of the Taliban to continue getting an education. Their hope is that if the Taliban regime collapses or is forced through international pressure to relax its restrictions, their clandestine schooling will keep them apace with their international peers, and enable them to pass exams.

Many of the unofficial underground schools in Afghanistan operate with limited resources — of both supplies and educators. They get support from women's rights and education activists outside the country, who send monthly funding for textbooks and teachers' wages.

The Pohana Fund is one of the many private groups that support the secret schools, mainly in the southern and eastern provinces of Afghanistan. The organization's founder, Wazhma Tokhi, who left Afghanistan and now lives in Europe, told CBS News the network of schools supported by her group has about 1,300 teenage girls as students.

"My aim in establishing these schools is to help girls continue their education, particularly those in remote and underdeveloped provinces, who are deprived of their basic rights to study beyond grade six," Tokhi told CBS News.

Sherin, whose real name CBS News is not using due to the nature of her work in Afghanistan, is a rights activist and the sole teacher at one of Pohana's underground schools in the southern province of Helmand — the ancestral home of the Taliban. She was a teacher before the Taliban's ban, and has continued her work clandestinely since. She told CBS News she's still teaching many of her former students, offering two sessions per day, each with 20 students, with financial assistance from the Pohana Fund.

"Teaching 40 students in two sessions is challenging, but I'm committed to helping these girls who have endured a lot," Sherin told CBS News in a phone interview. "I do it for my students, who are under immense mental pressure, who have experienced severe mental health issues after the Taliban closed their schools."

Her students range from the seventh grade to the 11th, and the subjects they study include some barred entirely under the new Taliban-approved curriculum, including for boys. According to students who spoke with CBS News, Sherin's classes are a last hope to escape the mental anguish of being denied an education. Some said continuing education was a way to avoid being married off by their families.

"It is a risky choice to educate these girls, but I have chosen this path," Sherin said. "The Taliban will punish us if they discover this school, because I am teaching girls who are supposed to be at home, according to Taliban orders, and because I receive funding from abroad."

Najiba, whose name CBS News has also changed, is 15 and would have been in ninth grade this year, if her school was still open. Instead, she attends Sherin's secret school, hoping and preparing for a brighter future, and refusing to give up on her dream of becoming a neurosurgeon.

"When I heard the Taliban opened schools only for the boys in the 2024 academic year, I felt humiliated, because women are worthless in the eyes of the Taliban," she told CBS News on the phone.

Inconsistent Taliban enforcement
Most of Afghanistan's secret schools operate, at least ostensibly, as Islamic religious schools, or madrasas. The Taliban's regulation of madrasas, and even unsanctioned schools, varies significantly depending on the location and the local officials involved, according to teachers who spoke with CBS News from three different provinces.

In some provinces, particularly in the traditional Taliban strongholds in the south and east, local authorities enforce a strict ban on girls' education. In other areas, however, there are unspoken understandings between local authorities and teachers.

Some teachers said they run schools from their homes made to look outwardly like religious schools, and some said they were even tipped off by local authorities of potential visits by auditors from the Taliban-run Ministry of Education.

"The Taliban in our area know that we also teach school subjects," said one teacher in the capital, Kabul. "I can no longer hide this from them … Somehow, they help us by giving us a heads-up before auditors visit."

But the inconsistency, and the rapid punishment for anyone who dares to flout the Taliban's strict rules, mean many thousands of girls are still being denied basic rights.

"Every additional day, more dreams die"
Lima, 17, is a student at another one of Afghanistan's underground schools for girls.

"I felt that I was deprived of my human rights just because I was a woman in Afghanistan," she told CBS News. "I wanted to be an independent woman and decide my future, but the Taliban took away those rights from us."

She had to stop the conversation, overwhelmed by her emotions.

While these young women are still finding ways to get around the Taliban's internationally condemned crackdown on their basic human rights, it's widely expected that Afghanistan will continue to see many of its educated and professional women flee for countries with more opportunities.

"Afghanistan will never fully recover from these 1,000 days," Human Rights Watch's associate director for women's rights, Heather Barr, said in the group's statement. "The potential lost in this time – the artists, doctors, poets, and engineers who will never get to lend their country their skills – cannot be replaced. Every additional day, more dreams die."

Teenage girls and their teacher Sherin are seen at a clandestine school supported by the Pohana Fund, in Afghanistan's southern Helmand province, in early June 2024
Teenage girls and their teacher Sherin are seen at a clandestine school supported by the Pohana Fund, in Afghanistan's southern Helmand province, in early June 2024. OBTAINED BY CBS NEWS





 

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