Girls schools reopen in Afghan city of Herat, residents say

ISLAMABAD (AP) — Schools for girls from grades 7 to 12 have reopened in Afghanistan's third largest city, Herat, residents said Monday in what appeared to be a localized change in the Taliban's bar on classes for girls of that age.

Since seizing power nearly three months ago, the Taliban have been under international pressure to allow all girls to go to school. There was no immediate confirmation from Taliban officials that girls were allowed back in Herat, a city in the west of the country, but parents there said their girls had been attending classes the past two days.

At least 26 schools for girls above grade 6 have reopened in Herat city, families said. So far, none are known to have reopened elsewhere in the province, also called Herat.

Mohammad Rafiq Sediqqi, a Herat resident, said his two daughters, in grades 8 and 9, were overjoyed to be back. He said he felt relief after weeks of worry.

“I suffered ten times more than my daughters when they couldn’t go to school,” he said.

The first time they were in power, from 1996 to 2001, the hard-line Taliban barred all women and girls from school and work. The growth in girls' school attendance and women in the work force was considered one of the main achievements of the past 20 years under the U.S.-backed government.

Since the Taliban ousted that government on Aug. 15, the international community has refused to recognize the Taliban government until it meets a list of demands, including respect for women's rights and schooling for girls. The newly ruling Taliban have allowed boys of all grades to return to school, but only allowed girls in primary school and women at private universities to continue. Teenage girls, aged 12 to 17, were not allowed back.

The new Taliban government has said that some form of education for girls and women will be permitted, but it has not given a timeframe or clarified what education facilities would be allowed.

The Taliban governor's office and Education Department in Herat did not respond to repeated requests from The Associated Press for comment on the situation in the city.

But residents were happy just to see their girls back in class. Mohammad Asif said he had been upset for weeks that his 8th grade sister hadn't been able to attend.

“I wish all girls can study and be educated to serve this nation alongside the men," he said.