UN: Exclusion of Afghan girls from high schools ‘shameful’

ISLAMABAD (AP) — The United Nations on Sunday called for Afghanistan’s Taliban rulers to reopen schools to girls in grades 7-12, calling the anniversary of their exclusion from high school “shameful.”

The U.N. said it is increasingly concerned that the policy, together with other restrictions on basic freedoms, will contribute to a deepening of the country’s economic crisis in the form of greater insecurity, poverty and isolation.

“This is a tragic, shameful, and entirely avoidable anniversary,” said Markus Potzel, acting head of the U.N. mission in Afghanistan.

A year after the Taliban took power in Afghanistan, hard-liners appear to hold sway in the Taliban-led government. Teenage girls are still barred from school and women are required to cover themselves from head to toe in public, with only their eyes showing. The religious group has failed to deliver on various promises to enable girls’ return to the classroom. The ban targets grades 7-12, primarily impacting girls age 12 to 18.

The Taliban re-opened high schools to boys while instructing girls to remain at home. The U.N. estimates that more than a million girls have been barred from attending high school over the past year.

“The ongoing exclusion of girls from high school has no credible justification and has no parallel anywhere in the world. It is profoundly damaging to a generation of girls and to the future of Afghanistan itself,” said Potzel, who is also the U.N. secretary-general’s deputy special representative for Afghanistan.

To mark the Sunday anniversary, 50 girls sent a letter entitled “A Year of Darkness: A Letter from Afghan girls to heads of Muslim countries and other world leaders.” The girls hail from the capital Kabul, eastern Nangarhar province and northern Parwan province.

“The past year, we have been denied human rights, such as the right to attain an education, the privilege to work, the liberty to live with dignity, freedom, mobility and speech, and the right to determine and decide for ourselves,” Azadi, an 18-year-old 11th-grade student from Kabul, said in the letter. The girls named in the letter gave only their first names.

The U.N. said the denial of education violates the most fundamental rights of girls and women. The world body said it increases the risk of marginalization, violence, exploitation and abuse against girls and is part of a broader range of discriminatory policies and practices targeting women and girls since the de facto authorities assumed power in the summer of 2021.

The U.N. again called upon the Taliban to reverse the slew of measures they have introduced restricting Afghan women and girls’ enjoyment of their basic rights and freedoms.

Since taking power, the Taliban have struggled to govern and remain internationally isolated. An economic downturn has driven millions more Afghans into poverty and hunger as the flow of foreign aid has slowed to a trickle.

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