Afghan Teachers Defy Taliban by Secretly Schooling Teenage Girls

Margherita Stancati:

A group of teenage girls filed quietly into Fawzia’s house, took off their shoes and gathered in the living room for a clandestine history lesson.

Fawzia, who asked to be identified only by her first name, talked about Afghanistan’s fabled treasure, the Bactrian Gold, and its past kings and queens. The 56-year-old teacher sees her new, secret work with teens as essential.

When the Taliban started reopening public schools in September, they banned girls from attending beyond the sixth grade. Since then, middle and high schools in a few provinces have reopened to girls, but in Kabul and most of the country they remain shut.

“If they just sit at home they will get depressed or addicted to their phones,” Fawzia said. “We need to give them hope that one day schools will reopen.”

The Taliban leadership has so far espoused a more moderate attitude toward women and girls compared with their rule in the 1990s. Taliban officials say schools for older girls will reopen in Kabul and elsewhere once appropriate gender-segregation arrangements are made.

Yet three months after the Taliban seized control of the country, many Afghans wonder if those promises to reopen schools will be kept.

“It’s clear from their past behavior how they feel about women’s education. They don’t want to empower women through education. Their goal is to keep women in their homes,” said Axana Soltan, who fled Afghanistan as a child when the Taliban were last in power and runs an NGO in the U.S. that advocates for the education of Afghan girls.