No country for young women
The Taliban are pushing females out of public life
On March 23rd thousands of Afghan girls headed to school for the first time in eight months, kitted out in bulging rucksacks, neatly pressed headscarves and covid-19 face masks.
Within hours, they were at home in tears—and not because of playground fights or test results.
In a last-minute pivot, the Taliban had backtracked on a decision to reopen secondary schools for girls and sent them home.
The new Taliban are beginning to look a lot like the old Taliban who ran Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001, when women who failed to cover every inch of flesh in public were beaten and adulterers were stoned to death.
But Afghan women have changed after two decades of American-backed government.
Many have university degrees.
Before the Taliban seized power last year, almost 30% of civil servants were women.
On the streets of Kabul book-waving girls have been chanting: “open the schools”.
When American forces withdrew from Afghanistan, the big question was how the Taliban would make the transition from a fundamentalist insurgency to running a country.
Girls' education became the litmus test.
In August there was some hope they wanted to show a gentler face.
Officials were interviewed by female presenters on television.
At the Taliban’s first press conference after seizing power, a spokesman reassured the world that women would be “very active” in Afghan society.
That balancing act seems over.
The abrupt u-turn on education, which affects over 1m school-age girls, is one of a string of recent repressive edicts.
New rules ban women from travelling long distances without a male chaperone.
That can mean they need a brother or a husband to enter a government building or a taxi.
A surgeon in Kabul says Taliban officials often visit, warning him not to see female patients who turn up alone.
“This is a sad moment for all of us,” he adds.