Afghan girls will be allowed to sit their matriculation exams this week, a Taliban government official and documents indicated on Tuesday, although they have been banned from classes since former rebels took over the country last year.
According to two documents from the Taliban’s education ministry, obtained by the Associated Press, the decision applies to 31 of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces where the winter school break begins in late December.
Ehsanullah Kitab, head of Kabul’s education department, said the exams would be held on Wednesday. He didn’t provide any other details and it wasn’t clear how many teenage girls could take the exam.
One of the documents, from the Kabul education department, states that the exams will last from 10:00 to 13:00. A second document, signed by Habibullah Agha, the education minister who took office in September, says tests will be held in 31 Afghan provinces. . The three excluded provinces – Kandahar, Helmand and Nimroz – have different school timetables and the high school diploma exams are usually held later.
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“This is ridiculous,” said 18-year-old Najela from Kabul, giving only her name out of fear of reprisals. She now she would be in seventh grade and eligible for the exam. “We spent a whole year under strain and stress and didn’t read a single page of our textbooks.”
“How can we take an exam after a year and a half that the Taliban have kept the school doors closed,” he added.
The Taliban invaded Afghanistan in August 2021 as US and NATO forces were in the final weeks of their withdrawal from the country after 20 years of war. While they initially promised a more moderate government and women’s and minority rights, they limited rights and freedoms and broadly implemented their harsh interpretation of Islamic law, or Sharia.
They banned girls from middle and high school, restricted most work to women, and ordered them to wear head-to-toe dresses in public. Women are also banned from parks, gyms and amusement parks.
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Women were not denied access to universities under the Taliban and the implication of the latest development is that Afghan girls who obtain a high school diploma after Wednesday’s exam could apply to universities.
The principal of a Kabul high school said she was informed that seventh-grade girls will have only one day to take exams in 14 subjects, with 10 questions for each subject. The principal, who spoke on condition of anonymity out of fear of reprisals, said most of the female students did not have textbooks.
“Giving an exam is meaningless,” he said.
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Students and their female teachers are required to wear the hijab, or headscarf, in accordance with the Taliban women’s dress code, and cell phones are prohibited during the exam. Girls who cannot attend or who fail the exam on Wednesday will be able to retest in mid-March, after the winter holidays.
The Taliban’s treatment of women and girls in Afghanistan has come under heavy criticism. Earlier this month, a team of UN experts said it could constitute a crime against humanity and should be investigated and prosecuted under international law, a charge the Taliban denied.