Personal photo provided by UNICEF representative in Afghanistan Fran Equiza showing him with schoolgirls in Afghanistan's Helmand province. EFE/UNICEFAfg/Fran Equiza

UN: Many Taliban leaders oppose prohibiting education for girls

United Nations, May 17 (EFE).- Many government leaders among the Taliban in Afghanistan oppose prohibiting education beyond primary school for girls and female teens, but Mullah Hibatullah Akhundzada, the Taliban’s top emir and leader, wants to continue with the ban on higher female education according to a UNICEF official in the Central Asian country.

Personal photo provided by UNICEF representative in Afghanistan Fran Equiza. EFE/UNICEF

In an interview with EFE, Fran Equiza, the Spanish representative for UNICEF in the country, said that in his many interviews with Taliban officials he has found that “the immense majority of ministers and provincial governors” (that is, officials among the highest levels of government) oppose halting the education of girls when they finish elementary school, despite the fact that doing so has been decreed by the government.

These officials say that the decision to reverse that decree is the responsibility of the emir, who has political, religious and ideological authority in a country lacking clear separation of powers.

Equiza is on a visit to New York amid a tour of several countries to discuss UNICEF activities in Afghanistan and the difficulties the agency’s personnel are encountering in working and lobbying for the continuation of Western aid to a country where 28 million people depend in one way or another on humanitarian assistance.

The Taliban have prohibited girls from getting any education beyond elementary school, a ban that has left approximately one million girls without schooling and a decision that has received unanimous condemnation from around the world, including from the most conservative Muslim nations.

Primary schools, Equiza said, remain open for girls throughout Afghanistan, with 2.5 million of them attending classes there, which UNICEF feels is very important for several reasons: it fosters the socialization of girls, provides basic education, allows mothers to leave the home although it may only be to accompany their girls to school, and it gives the girls models of “paid professional women” in the person of their teachers.

To reestablish the right of girls to continue their education in high school, the Taliban continue to demand three things: that classes be segregated by sex, that female teachers instruct the girls and that there be a dress code, things that in reality are already being done in elementary school.

But in any case, revoking the ban on female students is a decision that may only be made by the Taliban emir, a very elusive man who lives in the eastern city of Kandahar, the historic bastion of the Taliban, and to whom only a few people have access.

The emir’s public appearances can be counted on the fingers of one hand, and in fact 10 months went by after the Taliban retook power in Afghanistan in August 2021 before he appeared at a meeting of some 3,000 Islamic wise men and tribal elders in Kabul.

It is not known whether the emir has met with any international leader or ambassadors, and UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohamed visited the country in January without seeing him.

Regarding the prohibition on women working outside the home both in non-governmental organizations and UN agencies, those decrees being made in January and April, Equiza said that there is a lot of confusion about the scope of that ban along with numerous exceptions to the rule.

The confusion arises from the fact that health and education are two sectors that have been exempted from the ban, with the Taliban understanding that women are needed to teach girls and to provide health services for other women. Moreover, they have not made it clear whether the prohibition applies to all kinds of jobs or only those that involve foreign organizations or activity.

With regard to the exceptions, Equiza said that the exclusion of women from the general labor market is applied differently in the country’s various provinces and by different officials, adding that he “always” makes sure he is accompanied by Afghan women when he makes trips on the ground as a statement of general principles, as do colleagues from other UN agencies.

In reality, the presence of female workers has become a matter that is patiently negotiated on a case-by-case basis, and Equiza gave as an example a situation where in a cash transfer operation for families, the governor banned the women on his team, but when UNICEF responded “No women, no funds,” they came to an agreement to reserve some hours for women only and others for men.

In other cases, such as in caring for abandoned children in public shelters, no exceptions have been implemented and the shelters have been left without international funding.

Equiza said that although some exceptions are being made, the agency’s activities become expensive because they require that male and female staff must be duplicated, they are made more complicated and, above all, they are “extremely fragile” since the operations can fall apart or be stymied at any time.

EFE –/bp