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In Afghanistan’s secret schools, where girls stand up to the Taliban

#Afghanistans #secret #schools #girls #stand #Taliban

Nafeesa has discovered a great place to hide her school books from the prying eyes of her disapproving Taliban brother – the kitchen, where Afghan men seldom venture.

Hundreds of thousands of girls and young women like Nafeesa have been deprived of an education since the Taliban returned to power a year ago, but their thirst for learning has not waned.

“Boys don’t have anything to do in the kitchen, so I keep my books there,” says Nafeesa, who attends a secret school in a village in rural eastern Afghanistan.

“If my brother finds out about this, he will hit me.”

Since seizing power a year ago, the Taliban have imposed severe restrictions on girls and women to conform to their strict vision of Islam – effectively edging them out of public life.

Women can no longer travel on long journeys without a male relative to accompany them.

They have also been told to cover themselves with a headscarf, or better yet, an all-encompassing burqa – although the Taliban’s stated preference is that they only leave the house when absolutely necessary.

And under the most brutal deprivation, secondary schools for girls have not been allowed to reopen in many parts of Afghanistan.

But secret schools have sprung up in rooms of ordinary homes across the country.

A team of AFP journalists visited three of these schools and interviewed students and teachers whose real names were kept secret for their safety.

– “We want freedom” –

Decades of turbulence have devastated the Afghan education system, so Nafeesa is still studying graduate school, despite being 20 years old.

Only her mother and older sister know about it.

Her brother fought for years with the Taliban against the former government and US-led forces in the mountains and returned home after their victory, shaped by the uncompromising doctrine that a woman’s place is home.

He allows her to attend a madrassa in the morning to study the Koran, but in the afternoon she sneaks into a secret classroom organized by the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA).

“We took this risk, otherwise we remain uneducated,” said Nafeesa.

“I want to be a doctor… We want to do something for ourselves, we want to have freedom, to serve society and shape our future.”

When AFP visited her school, Nafeesa and nine other girls discussed freedom of expression with their teacher, sat side by side on a rug and took turns reading aloud from a textbook.

To get to class, they often leave the house hours early and take other routes to go unnoticed in an area made up mostly of Pashtun ethnic groups, who make up the majority of the Taliban and are known for their conservative ways to become.

When a Taliban fighter asks, the girls say they are enrolled in a tailor shop and hide their school books in tote bags or under their abaya and burqa outerwear.

Not only do they take risks, they also make sacrifices – Nafeesa’s sister dropped out of school to allay any suspicions her brother might have.

– No justification in Islam –

Religious scholars say there is no justification in Islam for banning secondary education for girls, and a year after taking power, the Taliban are still insisting that classes resume.

But the issue has divided the movement, with multiple sources telling AFP that a hardline faction, which advises Supreme Leader Hibatullah Akhundzada, is opposed to any schooling for girls – or at best wants them to focus on religious education and practical courses like cooking and manual labor is limited.

However, the official line remains that it is only a “technical issue” and classes will resume once a curriculum based on Islamic rules is established.

Elementary school girls are still going to school, and young women can go to university, at least for the time being – although classes are being separated and some subjects are being cut because of teacher shortages.

However, without a secondary school diploma, teenage girls cannot sit university entrance exams, so this current group of female tertiary students could be the last in the country for the foreseeable future.

“Education is an inalienable right in Islam for both men and women,” scholar Abdul Bari Madani told AFP.

“If this ban continues, Afghanistan will return to the Middle Ages…a whole generation of girls will be buried.”

– Lost Generation –

This fear of a lost generation has prompted teacher Tamkin to convert her house in Kabul into a school.

The 40-year-old was almost lost herself after being forced to drop out of college during the Taliban’s first rule from 1996 to 2001, when all girls were banned from going to school.

It took Tamkin years of self-study to qualify as a teacher, only to lose her job at the education ministry when the Taliban returned last year.

“I didn’t want these girls to be like me,” she told AFP, tears streaming down her cheeks.

“You should have a better future.”

With the support of her husband, Tamkin first turned a storage room into a class.

She then sold a family cow to raise money for school books since most of her girls came from poor families and couldn’t afford their own.

Today she teaches English and science to around 25 eager students.

On a rainy day recently, the girls trickled into their classroom for a biology lesson.

“I just want to learn. It doesn’t matter what the location is,” said Narwan, who was supposed to be in 12th grade and was sitting in a room full of girls of all ages.

Behind her, a poster on the wall warns people to be careful: “The tongue has no bones, but it’s so strong it can break your heart, so be careful what you say.”

This consideration from her neighbors has helped Tamkin hide the true purpose of the school.

“The Taliban have asked several times: ‘What’s going on here?’ I told the neighbors to say it’s a medrese,” Tamkin said.

17-year-old Maliha firmly believes that the day will come when the Taliban will no longer be in power.

“Then we will put our knowledge to good use,” she said.

– “Don’t be afraid of Taliban” –

On the outskirts of Kabul, in a maze of mud houses, Laila, another teacher, teaches underground classes.

As she looked into her daughter’s face after the cancellation of the planned reopening of secondary schools, she knew she had to do something.

“If my daughter cried, then the daughters of other parents must have cried too,” said the 38-year-old.

About a dozen girls gather two days a week at Laila’s house, which has a courtyard and a garden where she grows vegetables and fruit.

The classroom has a wide window overlooking the garden, and girls with textbooks in blue plastic folders are sitting on a carpet, cheerful and cheerful, studying together.

At the beginning of the lesson, they read out the answers to their homework one by one.

“We are not afraid of the Taliban,” said the 18-year-old student Kawsar.

“If they say something, we’ll fight it out, but keep learning.”

But the right to study is not the only goal of some Afghan girls and women, who are all too often married into abusive or restrictive relationships.

Zahra, who attends a secret school in eastern Afghanistan, was married at 14 and now lives with in-laws who object to her attending classes.

She takes sleeping pills to combat her anxiety – fearing her husband’s family might force him to stay at home.

“I tell them I’ll go to the local bazaar and come here,” Zahra said of her secret school.

For her, she says, this is the only way to make friends.

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#Afghanistans #secret #schools #girls #stand #Taliban

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