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Secret Schools In Afghanistan

News Section Editor, Olivia Chan, depicts a glimpse of hope for teenage girls in Afghanistan.

Local teachers in the Paktia province of Afghanistan have started reopening girls’ high schools, defying the Taliban ban on girls’ secondary education. According to residents and rights activists in the province, in Gardez, Paktia’s capital, at least four girls’ high schools were reopened. [1]

On 18 September 2021, boys’ high schools were reopened soon after the establishment of the Taliban regime, while there has been uncertainty surrounding the reopening of girls’ high schools. The Taliban previously announced on 21 March 2022 that Afghan girls of all ages could attend school from March 23. Yet on the morning of 23 March 2022, the Ministry of Education reversed their decision, giving vague justifications such as to “comply with Islamic law”, and to “finalise things”. [2] Subsequently, locals have sought to continue the education of their young women and defy Taliban law.

“The administrators of these schools asked the students to come back to school and the girls’ high schools are open,” said Mawlawi Khaliqyar Ahmadzai, the head of Paktia’s culture and information department, in a video statement. Subsequently, Zabihullah Mujahid, a Taliban spokesman, stated that an investigation was undertaken to find out who ordered the schools to reopen. [3]

Yet, not all members of the Taliban share the same stance on the education of young women. On 27 September 2022, Taliban Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanikzai called on Taliban leaders during a Taliban gathering to reopen girls’ high schools as there was no valid reason in Islam for the ban: ““It is very important that education must be provided to all, without any discrimination.” [4]

When properly looked for, women-run secret schools, private schools, girls’ madrasses (religious schools), and tutoring centres can be found as loopholes in the major cities of Kabul and Herat to educate girls in pursuit of studying. [5]

“I have my argument ready if a Taliban stops me. I will say ‘you didn’t study so you are like this, I have to study so I won’t be the same,’” said a seventh-grade student. [6] To support these sentiments, Jawad* runs a private school which has reopened its secondary classes. Regarding concerns of her safety, she voiced that being able to educate teenage girls was a priority.

“I told my mother I had this idea, to reopen classes for high school girls, and asked her what she thought. She asked me, ‘will they kill you if they discover you?’ I told her no, they will probably just hit me. So she said ‘Do it, you’ll forget a slap in an hour or two.’”

Similarly, Mahdia* established a school in a local mosque. As a 23-year-old engineer unemployed under the Taliban regime, she decided to teach girls whilst simultaneously studying English in pursuits of obtaining foreign engineering scholarships. She teaches one subject for an hour a day and assigns homework, starting and finishing each session with a motivational speech. To support her efforts, a NGO, Shahmama, provides textbooks and stationary for the girls.

Yet, children in rural areas have been taught this way for many years, with regard to constant war in their backyards. Thus, 20-yearold Sabira* has operated a secret school from her home for 3 years, teaching 110 girls with 3 other colleagues. [7]

“The girls and women in my village are illiterate. I wanted to become a teacher to change this. If there are no female teachers, girls will remain uneducated.”

Similarly, in Hazarajat, which is mainly populated by the minority Hazara people, 19 year-old Fatima Husaini* operates a secret school from the living room of her home in the mountains. She teaches around 35 boys and girls, between the ages of 5 to 17, allowing teenage girls to attend her classes. [8]

Distinctly, 28-year-old Hussain Naveed, another Hazara teacher, established a private education centre for high school students, which the local Taliban know of. Yet, it continues to operate, subject to strict rules for girls. Accordingly, Naveed’s centre helps bridge the gap for older students preparing for the Kankor University entrance examinations who lack access to formal schooling. His centre teaches over 300 students, majority being young women aged 13 to 17. [9]

Such secret schools and (not-so-secret) centres mainly depend on donations to fund teachers and provide textbooks and stationary to student. The Pen Path Civil Society is an example of a NGO which campaigns and supports 36 secret schools, including Sabira’s school. [10]

With such passion emanating from these individuals to educate young women, it raises the importance of knowledge to establish gender equality.

*Names have been changed to protect the identity of the individuals concerned.


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