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I share the profound frustration and disappointment of Afghan high school girls and women, who after six months of anticipation were prevented from returning to school today. The de facto authorities’ failure to adhere to commitments to reopen schools for girls above the sixth grade – in spite of repeated commitments towards girls’ education, including during my visit to Kabul two weeks ago – is deeply damaging for Afghanistan.

The denial of education violates the human rights of women and girls – beyond their equal right to education, it leaves them more exposed to violence, poverty and exploitation. This is of grave concern at a time when the country desperately needs to overcome multiple intersecting crises. Disempowering half of Afghanistan’s population is counterproductive and unjust. Structural discrimination such as this is also deeply damaging for the country’s prospects of future recovery and development.

The women I met during my visit to Kabul stressed that they needed to speak to the Taliban themselves, that they have information, solutions and the capability to help chart a way out of this economic, humanitarian and human rights crisis in Afghanistan. They insisted upon the equal right to quality education at the primary, secondary and tertiary levels and were hopefully awaiting the reopening of schools today.

I call on the de facto authorities to respect all girls’ rights to education and to open schools for all students without discrimination or further delay.