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Afghan women barred from school plead with male classmates to stay home in solidarity

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

The Taliban announced the start of the high school and college spring semester in parts of Afghanistan today, but only for men and boys. So a handful of Afghan women pleaded with their male classmates - all of us or none of us. NPR's Diaa Hadid reports.

DIAA HADID, BYLINE: Since seizing power 18 months ago, the Taliban have progressively banned most females from any education beyond Grade 6, arguing it's against Afghan cultural norms and religion. In December, they banned women from attending university. The ban came at the close of the winter semester.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: (Non-English language spoken).

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Yelling, inaudible).

HADID: At the time, some men walked out of class in solidarity with female students who'd been banned from attending. So as high school and college resumed, a handful of activists shared a letter reminding their male classmates that they promised to stand in solidarity with female students. It reminded the men they'd even chanted a slogan - all or no one.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: They said, we will not go to universities without our sisters. It's a reminder for men to keep their promise.

HADID: This is one of the letter's authors. She requested anonymity because activists like her have faced detention, torture, sexual assault and beatings. She said women would keep fighting.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: I wanted to show that we don't sit silent, and we will fight in every way that we can. We will fight.

(SOUNDBITE OF CAN SPRAYING)

HADID: Like with graffiti. In a video sent to NPR, the young woman, her face covered, sprayed all or no one on a wall in Kabul. On another, she sprayed death to the Taliban. As boys returned to school and girls stayed home, Richard Bennett, the United Nations official tasked with monitoring human rights in Afghanistan, had this to say today.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

RICHARD BENNETT: The abysmal treatment of women and girls is intolerable and unjustifiable on any ground, including religion.

HADID: He described the Taliban of carrying out an intentional and calculated policy to erase women and girls from public life. As for the letter, it wasn't clear if any men heeded the women's call to stay home. The Taliban have typically been much harsher against men who criticize them than women. But the women say the difference is they're being denied their rights simply for being women.

Diaa Hadid, NPR News, Islamabad. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Diaa Hadid chiefly covers Pakistan and Afghanistan for NPR News. She is based in NPR's bureau in Islamabad. There, Hadid and her team were awarded a Murrow in 2019 for hard news for their story on why abortion rates in Pakistan are among the highest in the world.