Indonesia's top Muslim group urges Taliban to educate teen girls

Arie Firdaus
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Indonesia's top Muslim group urges Taliban to educate teen girls Afghan girls participate in a lesson at Tajrobawai Girls High School, in Herat, Afghanistan, Nov. 25, 2021.

The Indonesian government and the country’s largest Islamic organization called Friday on the Taliban rulers of Afghanistan to allow girls to attend school beyond the sixth grade, saying women need to be educated because that would shape the next generation.

These calls from Indonesia came after Afghanistan’s Ministry of Education said this week that schools for girls beyond the sixth grade would be closed, only hours after they had reopened for the first time in nearly seven months.

An official from the Taliban, which has ruled Afghanistan since U.S. forces pulled out last August, said the government needed more time to decide on a school uniform for teenage girls.

“Indonesia is concerned about the decision,” Teuku Faizasyah, the Indonesian foreign ministry spokesman, told BenarNews.

“We hope that the Taliban can reconsider because education should be for all, including women and girls. It is also very important for the future of Afghanistan.”

Yahya Cholil Staquf, chairman of Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), arguably the world’s largest Islamic group, said education for women benefitted society.

“Today, we are able to do more things because we have women who excel,” Yahya said in a statement posted on the group’s website.

“Please give your daughters the best education you can provide because they are the ones who will determine the picture of your next generation,” he said in English.

In Afghanistan, local girls spoke of their despair after they were turned away from their schools, according to the New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW).

“Living in Afghanistan as a young girl under the Taliban is already unbearable but watching our dreams and futures shatter with lies like this shows we can’t reach the sky,” said a girl identified by HRW as Atefa.   

Aziz-ur-Rahman Rayan, a spokesman for the Afghan Ministry of Education, attributed the decision to suspend secondary schooling for girls to a lack of a religious uniform for girls and the lack of female teachers for girls, among other issues, The New York Times reported.

The Taliban are back in charge of the nation now known as the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. In August 2021, they returned to power 20 years after being ousted by an American-led international military coalition in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001 suicide plane attacks on New York and Washington.

During the Taliban’s five-year rule in the late 1990s, the group implemented policies that suppressed women’s rights, such as cutting off access to education for women and girls.

Troubled land

Indonesia, the world’s most populous Islamic-majority nation, in recent years had tried to facilitate negotiations aimed at ending decades of war in Afghanistan.

Last year, Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi met Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanikzai, deputy director of the Taliban’s political office, in Qatar’s capital, Doha.

At that time she said she stressed the importance of an inclusive government in Afghanistan, and respect for women’s rights.

In July 2019, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the Taliban’s co-founder, met in Jakarta with the now-previous head of Nahdlatul Ulama, who told Baradar that the warring Afghan factions should sit together and agree to a peace based on the spirit of Islamic brotherhood.  

Since the Taliban took power again, women’s rights advocacy groups have expressed grave concern over whether the Taliban will undo progress made since 2001 in boosting gender equality and opportunities for Afghan women and girls.

Faisal Assegaf, a researcher on Middle Eastern affairs, said some Taliban officials appeared to be concerned that the girls’ school uniforms were not sufficiently modest.

“There are many people in Afghanistan who believe that women should wear a dress that covers the whole body and a face veil while outside of the home,” Assegaf told BenarNews. 

The Taliban may also fear that girls returning to school could provoke attacks by the rival militant group known as the Islamic State, previously known as ISIS, he said.

“ISIS is opposed to girls going to school, so it may have been a consideration for the Taliban’s decision to postpone the return to schooling for girls,” Assegaf said.

“There’s the potential for ISIS to mount attacks and if that happens it would make the international community think that the Taliban are incompetent,” he added.

Since the Taliban returned to power, the Islamic State had been active especially in the provinces of Kunar, Nangarhar and Kandahar, Assegaf said.

Assegaf said he believed the Taliban would allow girls to return to schools soon, saying that the group had become more moderate.

“In Kabul, it’s not a big problem,” he said.

“It’s only a problem in the villages because there are still many people who have the outdated belief that women must be fully covered and can’t go to school.”


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