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The Taliban Are Stopping Afghan Girls From Going To Secondary School


Perhaps the most painful fallout of the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan is seeing what is happening to women and girls there. The Taliban replaced the Women's Affairs Ministry this past week with religious police tasked with the, quote, "propagation of virtue and the prevention of vice," and only boys for now are being allowed back into secondary school. Just a note - we will keep reporting on Afghanistan because what is happening there is the result of 20 years of U.S. war and how we ended it. Pashtana Durrani is the founder and executive director of LEARN. That's a charity focused on education in Afghanistan, and she joins us now this morning. Thank you so much for being here.

PASHTANA DURRANI: Thank you so much for having me.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: What schooling can and can't a girl receive in Afghanistan now?

DURRANI: It's less of, like, you know, what she can receive and what she can't receive. It's just we don't know what's going to happen next. They haven't announced a ban, but they haven't addressed the fact that girls from class seven to class 12 - where should they go? What should they be doing, you know? It's that uncertainty that is making us nervous. And then at the same time, it's the second day the boys are in school, but girls are not. And that's - again, they could have been learning, so that's, like, the first thing that you should be concerned about.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Right. I mean, the Taliban have denied that girls will be banned, saying that they're setting up, quote, "secure transportation." But do you believe that?

DURRANI: I find it funny. Like, when they were fighting in the mountains, what were women taking back then? What were girls taking back then to go to school? Like, it's not the state's responsibility to find transportation for the girls. It's the state's responsibility to give them a safe environment to study in. They are good with excuses. Last night, it was, oh, we want to do segregated classes, but when we corrected them, now they want to say it's transportation. Nice.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I mean, you must be in contact with girls who can't go to school. What are they telling you?

DURRANI: So I am in touch with this one of my favorite principals. She is running this school, a public school. She keeps on telling me - she's like, teachers that are supposed to be teaching the students - they come every two days, and then they leave because they don't have students to teach. So that's on an administrative level. Then there are girls related to our staff, and I ask them. I'm like, you know, what's up with your sisters and all that? And they tell me our sisters are not going to school. They are at home, although her brother is going to a medical university. He's studying medicine, but his sister is at home.

And that is - like, you know, that's so heartbreaking because in a sense, she doesn't have a phone, so she cannot voice in her concerns to the international community. She doesn't have the platform, so she cannot tell you why she wants to study. But then at the end of the day, a man has to decide for everyone in the country.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I mean, let's talk a little bit about the education the girls would be receiving if they were allowed to go back to secondary school. I mean, is the Taliban changing education in schools? What is being taught?

DURRANI: So we don't know if they will be censoring the curriculum, if they'll be removing the female leaders and female poets, female warriors from the history, if they will be removing, like, you know, different subjects like biology or the Chapter 10 on reproduction. It's all uncertainty that right now we face.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So as someone who has devoted their life to educating women and girls in Afghanistan, what are you feeling right now?

DURRANI: I just - I was talking to a friend right now, and she's like, you know, we need revolution. And I was like, I'm too drained. I'm exhausted. We - in 21st century, people in the world start fighting for environmental rights, climate change and all that. And we are fighting for a basic right that was given to us, like, years ago and that should have been in place, like, you know, a century back. Right now, we are fighting for that.

I mean, like, as a woman, as an Afghan woman, I'm heartbroken. I'm shattered. I mean, like, how much do I have to continue? How many more women have to be beaten down before people and the world and the Taliban understand that, OK, getting an education is not a sin? A sin is when you abuse a child. Sin is when you do pedophilia. It's not a sin to go to school and get educated, you know?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: What would you like to see happen when you mention the international community? What would you like to see them do?

DURRANI: For once, maybe take an action. You are welcoming the opening of the boys school, but you are not asking the Taliban, OK, we will hold your aid if you don't open the schools. Nobody's doing that. The international community is just, like, you know, not even using their name or leverage. They're not pushing for it. I haven't seen a single statement that says, OK, open the schools or we will stop funding you. Open the schools or we will sanction you. Nothing like that.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's Pashtana Durrani, founder and executive director of LEARN. Thank you so much for being with us.

DURRANI: Thank you for having me. Thank you. Take care. Bye-bye. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.