In Afghanistan, a drive to continue education – and confront the Taliban

The New Humanitarian

As the day of the Kankor, Afghanistan’s college entrance exam, approached last month, Mozhdah Hossaini and her classmates were certain it would end in disappointment.

“We just kept thinking, ‘What if we get to the gates of the university and they turn us away?’” Hossaini, 19, told The New Humanitarian by phone from Mazar-e Sharif, capital of northern Balkh province, shortly after her 5 October exam date. 

Their fears were hardly unwarranted. In March, tens of thousands of teenage girls across 32 of the nation’s 34 provinces showed up to their high schools on the day they were to finally reopen, only to be told to go home by armed Taliban stationed outside. In September, teenage girls in Paktia – which for one week had become the third province where adolescent girls could study – were again turned away by the Taliban.

Hossaini knew she and her classmates were fortunate. Balkh is one of the two provinces where the Taliban have not kept teenage girls from attending high school since returning to power last August.

But Hossaini still harboured a fear her luck could run out at any moment.

While her exam went without a hitch, the challenges facing education under the Taliban, particularly – but not only – for girls, remain extremely high. 

In the 15 months since the Taliban returned to power, the prospect of girls’ education has been left to uncertainty amid seemingly random edicts from the Taliban-led government. Many Afghans say they can’t understand why teenage girls are able to take private courses, study at madrassas and attend privately run home schools, but they’re not allowed to return to government-run high schools in most of the nation. 

Despite their confusion, the Afghan people, including young girls and women, are determined to show the Taliban that 2022 won’t be like 1997: They will fight for their right to a full, proper education...