The Taliban have excluded girls from Afghan secondary schools, after they ordered only boys and male teachers to return to the classroom.
Schoolgirls told the BBC they were devastated not to be returning. “Everything looks very dark,” one said.
A Taliban spokesman said there were plans to open girls’ schools soon.
But there are fears Afghanistan is returning to the harsh rule of the 1990s when a similar ban on girls’ schooling was in place.
‘I am so worried about my future’
A statement issued ahead of Afghan schools reopening on Saturday said: “All male teachers and students should attend their educational institutions.”
Secondary schools are usually for students aged between 13 and 18, and most are segregated.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid was later quoted by Afghanistan’s Bakhtar News Agency as saying that girls’ schools would open soon. He said officials were currently working on the “procedure” for this, and details including the division of teachers.
But schoolgirls and their parents said prospects were bleak.
“I am so worried about my future,” said one Afghan schoolgirl, who had hoped to be a lawyer.
“Everything looks very dark. Every day I wake up and ask myself why I am alive? Should I stay at home and wait for someone to knock on the door and ask me to marry him? Is this the purpose of being a woman?”
Her father said: “My mother was illiterate, and my father constantly bullied her and called her an idiot. I didn’t want my daughter to become like my mum.”
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Another schoolgirl, a 16-year-old from Kabul, said it was a “sorrowful day”.
“I wanted to become a doctor! And that dream has vanished. I don’t think they would let us go back to school. Even if they open the high schools again, they don’t want women to become educated.”
Earlier this week, the Taliban announced that women would be allowed to study at universities, but they would not be able to do so alongside men and would face a new dress code.
Some suggested the new rules would exclude women from education because the universities do not have the resources to provide separate classes.
Barring girls from secondary schools would mean none would be able to go on to further education.
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Since the Taliban were removed from power in 2001, enormous progress has been made in improving Afghanistan’s education enrolments and literacy rates – especially for girls and women.
The number of girls in primary schools increased from almost zero to 2.5 million, while the female literacy rate nearly doubled in a decade to 30%. However, many of the gains have been made in cities.
“This is a setback in the education of Afghan women and girls,” said Nororya Nizhat, a former Education Ministry spokesperson.
“This reminds everyone of what the Taliban did in the 90s. We ended up with a generation of illiterate and non-educated women.”
Shortly after taking power the Taliban said the rights of women in Afghanistan would be respected “within the framework of Islamic law”.