A Lacombe-based charity that helped build schools in northern Afghanistan says all its female students continue to attend school despite the Taliban’s recent decision to not allow young girls to return to the classroom.
“In that area, they’re letting everybody go to Grade 12 so we have been lucky,” said Eric Rajah, co-founder of A Better World Canada who was able to get an update on the schools.
“There’s actually been very little problem, even 14 years ago when we started, because the north generally is not in favour of the Taliban rule.”
But he said it’s difficult to know if access will change in the weeks to come.
Afghanistan’s Taliban rulers unexpectedly decided against reopening schools on Wednesday to girls above the sixth grade, reneging on a promise and opting to appease their hard-line base at the expense of further alienating the international community. So far, they have refused to explain the sudden decision.
Rajah said schools don’t operate in the winter because they aren’t heated, and students had just returned to class for the new school year when the Taliban changed the rules.
As of January 2022, a total of about 15,000 students, including girls and boys, were attending the 14 schools built by A Better World.
Rajah said the humanitarian organization was concerned schools would be destroyed when the Taliban regained power last summer. But none of their schools, which are owned by the community, were damaged and reopened to students.
He said schools further south, in Kabul and Kandahar, have definitely been impacted.
One of his fondest memories after schools were built was seeing hundreds of girls walking to school.
“All these girls going to school, defiant, brave, courageous, walking down the street. There was nothing more exciting,” Rajah said.
On Friday, female foreign ministers from 16 countries around the world said they were “deeply disappointed” that Afghan girls were being denied access to secondary schools and called on the Taliban to reverse their decision. Diplomats from 10 countries sounded a similar message at the United Nations.
“As women and as foreign ministers, we are deeply disappointed and concerned that girls in Afghanistan are being denied access to secondary schools this spring,” the foreign ministers of Albania, Andorra, Australia, Belgium, Bosnia, Canada, Estonia, Germany, Iceland, Kosovo, Malawi, Mongolia, New Zealand, Sweden, Tonga and Britain said in a joint statement.
“We call upon the Taliban to reverse their recent decision and to grant equal access to all levels of education, in all provinces of the country,” they said.
At U.N. headquarters in New York, ambassadors from Albania, Britain, Brazil, France, Gabon, Ireland, Mexico, Norway, the United States and the United Arab Emirates stood together to decry the Taliban’s decision.
“It is a profoundly disturbing setback,” Emirati Ambassador Lana Nusseibeh, the current council president, said in reading a joint statement.
The foreign ministers said access to education is a human right to which every girl and woman as entitled, and that “no country can afford to not take advantage of the potential and talent of its entire people.”
with files from The Associated Press