Afghan education, on the precipice: “Being a woman or a girl makes you a sinner”

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Fray Luis de León is credited with the famous “as we said yesterday” with which he greeted his students upon returning to class after several years in prison. The spirit of the Spanish friar still does not appear in Afghanistan, where the Taliban maintain, for the moment, the veto on the education of women except in Infant courses. From the University of Salamanca to that of Kabul there are 8,100 kilometers by road and a much greater academic distance after the ax hit by the jihadist guerrilla regime. The new rector, Mohammad Ashraf Ghairat, is a former Taliban spokesman who has neither experience nor sufficient training, according to some professors at the institution. Social media has raged with criticism in recent days after the appointment.

“All they are concerned about is gender separation, the burqa …”, denounces Talwasa, a 30-year-old teacher who teaches Pashtun Language and Literature at that institution, the majority language among the Taliban. The new rector “is someone with a very closed mind” and “always against women,” confirms Najibullah Afghan, 26, a professor in the Spanish Department. The 300 professors he estimates left with the rise of the fundamentalists may be joined by a major boycott by many others if Ghairat does not deviate from the path that everyone suspects he will follow.

The refusal of the Taliban regime to allow women to return to classes and the absence of any kind of plan in this regard only increases uncertainty about the future of half the population of a country of 40 million inhabitants. Government spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said last week that they are outlining what is necessary for them to return to the classroom. That will happen “as soon as possible.” It was all that was done. But the fence on education is just the tip of the iceberg of the change suffered by women in Afghanistan in recent weeks.

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“Being a woman or a girl in Afghanistan makes you a sinner.” This is the first sentence 17-year-old Dewa lets out, before the reporter even questions her. “In some situations, my life would change a lot if I were a boy,” he adds, referring to the liberation that would mean being able to equate his life, in the shadow of his father – a kind of “bodyguard” -, to that of his brothers. All despite the fact that his family environment is liberal compared to the average for the country. “My father wants me to be a doctor”, a profession that better fits the conservative mentality of the country, but “my dream is to be an astronaut.” He sees it as complicated in any case “under the stupid Taliban mentality.” “We can’t show our worth,” she says fluently in English, claiming to be number one in her class. With his feet on the ground more than on the moon, he would settle for studying economics.

“What will become of me, will I stay here as a housewife?”, She wonders, convinced that she is never going to give up as she repeatedly pulls up her glasses, which slip down her nose. But the pressure on the street imposes its rhythm and this young woman’s love for Western fashion has been parked for the moment. She does not wear skirts, jeans, or bright colors.

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The number of schools in Afghanistan tripled in the 20 years since the previous Taliban government was beheaded in 2001. The minors enrolled in school also went from one million to 9.5 million, according to Unicef ​​figures. Despite progress, schooling in rural areas presented significant problems.

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Mariam, 16, and Yousuf, 12, are brothers. He returned to class on September 18, like the rest of the primary school students. She keeps waiting. When the guerrillas seized power in Kabul, classes were interrupted. He was in full exams and left without taking the History and Pashtun exams. “So far everything is promises, plans and announcements,” laments Mariam in the living room of her house in the capital with her brother. She also complains about the disappearance in the new cabinet of the Ministry of Women, which has been replaced by another to preserve morals and against vice. The girl fears that the bolt to education will go further and end up preventing them from working and even going out without the company of a man. “The existence of women in government and in working life is very important,” he reflects.

Neither was born when between 1996 and 2001 the Taliban already prevented women from accessing education and curtailed other important rights. “My colleagues and I are worried, nervous and fearful” at the arrival of the “extremists.” All subjects are taught by teachers except one, Sharia (the equivalent of religion), which is in charge of a teacher.

“What is our future if half the country is left in an ambiguous space, without education or work?” Shahnaza, a 25-year-old geography and history teacher in a private school, lives in a permanent state of “depression” because the siege of women’s rights goes far beyond the education sector. She says that last week a Taliban who was guarding the Babur garden in the capital pointed his rifle at her because he believed she was not dressed properly. All despite the fact that she was covered to the feet with a chapán [una vestimenta típica de la zona que se lleva por encima de la ropa] black and on his head, a green scarf that revealed part of his hair, as shown in the photo he keeps from that day on the phone. “If they target us just for not dressing the way they want, how are they going to let us go back to class?” He wonders.

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Sara Qamoos, 26, has studied Business Administration and in recent years has combined classes with her work in a project linked to the United Nations for the development of Kabul. Now she cannot defend her final degree job and the project where she was employed is frozen. Nor can he go to the gym, since it is only enabled for male use, or go out with his friends to dinner in the same way as he did before. The limitations that she or her family did not impose on dressing before are in the form of a long black garment. “We are all afraid,” he concludes. Sara attends the interview with her sister Sahar, 22, a language and literature student, who recognizes that it is the first day she has been on the street since the Taliban took over the entire country.

As soon as they allow him, Shahnaza will resume his teaching without a hint of self-censorship, he says. “I have to have courage for my students and for my work,” he shuffles in a cafeteria chair while stroking a glass of orange juice without hardly tasting it. “I am not accepting that the Taliban dominate us physically or mentally.”

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