Taliban Expand Madrasas, May Never Reopen Girls’ Secondary Schools

An Afghan education official says Taliban authorities may permanently close girls’ secondary schools, promoting religious schools known as madrasas as an alternative.

The Taliban shut down girls’ secondary schools in 2022, citing “religious and cultural” concerns.

Taliban officials defend the ban, insisting they are working to create a suitable educational environment for older female students.

“Schools may never be reopened the way they were under the occupation,” an official at Afghanistan’s Education Ministry told VOA on Tuesday, referring to the 2001-2021 U.S. military presence in the country.

“Principally, there is no difference between a school and a madrasa,” the official said, asking for anonymity because the Taliban have banned their members from speaking to VOA.

“If the purpose is education, it can be attained as much in madrasas as in schools, so there should be no insistence only on schools.”

Religious studies rather than diverse subjects

However, the U.N. and human rights activists worry that madrasas, focused on religious studies, cannot fully replace traditional schools that deal with diverse subjects.

“I am concerned that the quality of education in these institutions does not adequately prepare girls or boys for higher-level education and professional training to join an effective workforce in the future,” U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said in a report to the Security Council this month.

While girls’ secondary schools have remained closed for about two years, the United Nations has reported a surge in newly registered madrasas across the country.

The U.N. reported over 7,000 registered madrasas in Afghanistan, with roughly 380 designated for girls.

There are no age restrictions for girls attending the seminaries, Taliban officials have confirmed.

“Recruitment of madrasa teachers continued following the promulgation in July 2023 of the Taliban leader’s decree mandating the recruitment of 100,000 new madrasa teachers by the end of 2023,” Guterres said in his report.

‘Gender apartheid’

Pashtana Dorani, a U.S.-based Afghan women’s education activist, said the Taliban have already replaced schools with religious seminaries.

“They have created their own system,” Dorani told VOA, expressing concerns about potentially extremist teachings in madrasas.

The Taliban are widely accused of enforcing a “gender-apartheid” aimed at erasing women from most public spheres.

In addition to educational restrictions, Afghan women are banned from most jobs and even entry to some public places like parks and sport centers.

Last year, the all-male Taliban cabinet barred women’s beauty parlors.

Male Taliban officials say their policies are aligned with the aspirations of all Afghans.

“Far-reaching consequences”

Last year, education ended for more than 330,000 Afghan girls as they passed grade six exams. They joined more than 3.7 million girls who are banned from secondary schooling, according to aid agencies.

“This short-sighted decision has far-reaching consequences,” Salam Al-Janabi, a spokesperson for the U.N. Children’s Fund, or UNICEF, said to VOA.

Already plagued by some of the worst maternal health indicators, Afghanistan is heading toward far worse public health crises because of the Taliban’s educational restrictions, experts warn.

Taliban Expand Madrasas, May Never Reopen Girls’ Secondary Schools