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  • Afghanistan: The secret girls school defying the Taliban

    Hidden away in a residential neighbourhood is one of Afghanistan’s new “secret” schools – a small but powerful act of defiance against the Taliban.

    Around a dozen teenage girls are attending a maths class.

    “We know about the threats and we worry about them,” the sole teacher tells us, but she adds, girls’ education is worth “any risk”.

    In all but a handful of provinces in the country, girls’ secondary schools have been ordered to remain closed by the Taliban.

    At the school we visit, they’ve done an impressive job trying to replicate a real classroom, with rows of neat blue and white desks.

    “We do our best to do this secretly,” says the female teacher, “but even if they arrest me, they beat me, it’s worth it.”

    Back in March, it seemed as if girls’ schools were about to reopen. But just an hour or so after pupils began arriving, the Taliban leadership announced a sudden change in policy.

    For the students at the secret school, and many other teenage girls, the pain is still raw.

    “It’s been two months now, and still schools haven’t reopened,” one 19-year-old in the makeshift classroom told us. “It makes me so sad,” she added, covering her face with the palms of her hands to hold back the tears.

    But there’s also a mood of defiance.

    Another 15-year-old student wanted to send a message to other girls in Afghanistan: “Be brave, if you are brave no-one can stop you.”

    Primary schools for girls have reopened under the Taliban, and have in fact seen a rise in attendance following the improvement in security in rural parts of the country, but it’s not clear when or if older girls will be allowed back into class.

    The Taliban have said the correct “Islamic environment” needs to be created first, though given schools were already segregated by gender, no-one seems sure what that means.

    Taliban officials have repeatedly insisted in public that girls schools will reopen, but also admit that female education is a “sensitive” issue for them. During their previous stint in power in the 1990s, all girls were prevented from going to school, ostensibly due to “security concerns”.

    Now, multiple sources told the BBC, a handful of hardline but highly influential individuals in the group appear to still be opposed to it.

    In private, other Taliban members have expressed their disappointment at the decision not to open girls’ schools. The Taliban’s Ministry of Education seemed as surprised as anyone when the leadership overruled their plans in March, and some senior Taliban officials are understood to be educating their daughters in Qatar or Pakistan.

    In recent weeks, a number of religious scholars with links to the Taliban have issued fatwas, or religious decrees supporting girls’ right to learn.

    Sheikh Rahimullah Haqqani is an Afghan cleric, based largely across the border in Peshawar, Pakistan. He’s well-respected by the Taliban and on a trip to Kabul last month met senior figures within their government.

    He’s careful not to criticise the continued closure of schools but, speaking at his madrassa in Peshawar, with his mobile phone in hand, scrolls through the text of his “fatwa”, which shares decrees from earlier scholars and accounts from the life of the Prophet Muhammad.

    “There is no justification in the sharia [law] to say female education is not allowed. No justification at all,” he tells the BBC.

    “All the religious books have stated female education is permissible and obligatory, because, for example, if a woman gets sick, in an Islamic environment like Afghanistan or Pakistan, and needs treatment, it’s much better if she’s treated by a female doctor.”

    Similar fatwas have been issued by clerics in Herat and Paktia provinces in Afghanistan. It’s a symbol of how widespread support for girls’ education now is in the country, even amongst conservative circles, but it’s not clear how much of an impact the decrees will have.

    The Taliban have formed a committee to examine the issue, but multiple sources with links to the Taliban told the BBC that while even senior Taliban ministers were on board with the reopening of girls schools in March, opposition to it centred around the group’s leadership in the southern city of Kandahar, where the “Amir” or Supreme Leader, Mullah Haibatullah is based.

    After initially adopting a more flexible attitude when taking power last August, the Taliban have recently been issuing more and more hardline edicts, including making the face veil compulsory for women and encouraging them to stay at home.

    Meanwhile, their tolerance for dissent, even in their own ranks, is dissipating.

    One Taliban member with a large following on social media, had tweeted critically about the closure of girls’ schools, as well as new rules ordering government employees to grow their beards. However, according to one source, he was called in for questioning by the Taliban intelligence department, later deleting his tweets and apologising for his earlier comments on beards.

    There appears to be very little grassroots opposition to female education in Afghanistan, but some Taliban figures cite concerns about the Islamic State group using the issue as a recruitment tool, if girls’ schools are opened up.

    Western officials, however, have also made clear that progress on women’s rights is key for the Taliban to be able to access some of the billions of dollars of foreign reserves that are frozen.

  • Afghanistan: Taliban backtrack on reopening high schools for girls

    The Taliban have reversed a decision to allow Afghan girls to return to high schools, saying a ruling is still to be made on the uniforms they must wear.

    Schools were set to open nationwide after months of restrictions since the Taliban seized power in August.

    But the education ministry abruptly announced girls’ secondary schools would stay shut, causing confusion.

    Some girls were in tears as parents and students reacted with anger and disappointment to the last-minute move.

    Many had earlier talked of how happy and excited they were to be back in the classroom.

    The decision came a week after the education ministry announced schools for all students, including girls, would open around the country on Wednesday.

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

    The notice added schools would reopen after a decision over the uniform of female students was made in accordance with “Sharia law and Afghan tradition”.

    A man who did not want to be identified told the BBC his daughter had been in shock and in tears since being refused entry by Taliban officials into the school this morning.

    “If anything happens to my daughter, I will not forgive the Taliban,” he said.

    Activist Mahouba Seraj, founder of the Afghan Women’s Network, was bemused by the U-turn.

    “The excuse they gave was ‘you don’t have the proper hijab on’. There was no ruling, they just decided this morning that the hijab was not proper, for whatever reason,” she told the BBC.

    She said girls’ “school uniforms in Afghanistan are pretty covered up, always”. Secondary schools in Afghanistan are already segregated by gender.

    One of the demands of the international community was for the Taliban to grant women and girls the right to education before being able to access foreign aid.

    Ms Seraj said: “What I want to hear from them and see from them is for them to stand fast and say ‘okay, this is what you decided to do? Well, this is what we have decided to do: no recognition, no money. Period!'”

    The United Nations mission in Afghanistan said it “deplores today’s reported announcement by the Taliban”.

    US diplomats said closing schools undermined confidence in Taliban commitments and assurances.

    It “further dashes the hopes of families for a better future for their daughters,” US special envoy Rina Amiri tweeted.

  • Duecento milioni di donne a rischio di mutilazione genitale entro il 2030

    Il 6 febbraio, nella Giornata internazionale della tolleranza zero rispetto alle mutilazioni genitali femminili, è stato purtroppo nuovamente registrato che vi sono ancora 200 milioni di ragazze vittime di questa grave menomazione fisica e della conseguente violazione psicologica. Secondo i dati forniti dalla Ue, da qui al 2030 altri 200 milioni di ragazze sono a rischio. Diverse giovani subiscono questa pratica illegale anche in Europa, nonostante i controlli posti in essere da tempo e nonostante la mutilazione genitale femminile sia un reato in tutti i Paesi della Ue, che puniscono anche coloro che portano le ragazze a subire la mutilazione fuori dall’Europa. I controlli non sono ancora sufficienti e sono sopratutto il personale insegnante e quello sanitario che devono essere attenti a identificare bambine e ragazze a rischio e a denunciare anche preventivamente la possibilità che si stia per commettere il reato. Per quanto sia forte la cooperazione a livello internazionale per sorvegliare e debellare questa pratica criminale che segna per sempre fisico e mente di chi la subisce, non si è di fatto ancora ottenuta una collaborazione sufficiente nelle aree più svantaggiate dei Paesi nei quali quest’usanza tribale è diffusa.

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