By Arzoo Hakimi
When Aybak city, the capital of central Samangan province, fell to the Taliban on the 9th of September, 15-year-old Maryam collected all her books and school certificates together. Fearing the Taliban might find and target her for being a student, she then set the pile on fire.
I met Maryam two months after the Taliban’s lightning takeover of Afghanistan in mid-August. Burning her last nine years of recorded achievements has made Maryam go from child to depressed adult, overnight.
When she heard the news about the fall of Samangan on TV, she was reminded of all the stories she had heard about the previous Taliban era. She could only focus on one thing in her mind: the burning of her documents. She believed this was the only way to save her family from danger.
“When I saw the flame from my certificates, I wondered, ‘why I didn’t set myself on fire?’” she said.
Maryam and her family, including her five younger sisters, live in a village near Aybak city, where she used to work in the field with her parents. Now, with the Taliban in power, Maryam and her mother can’t work outside the home. Her father, now working alone, can’t make ends meet.
As the eldest child, Maryam feels responsible, especially for her sisters.
“How should a child understand that because she is a girl, she can no longer go to school?” she said angrily. “I now feel as if the walls and ceiling of my house are collapsing on me.”
Her younger sisters are still going to school, but it’s not like before. Most of the female teachers are not allowed to work and many students are staying at home, fearful of the sudden uncertain environment for women and girls.
“My sisters are in primary school, but they already know that they can’t continue school after sixth grade,” she said. On September 17, the Taliban banned girls from secondary schools when it ordered that teenage boys could return, but made no mention of girls. Although the Taliban claim their de facto ban on girls’ education and women’s work is temporary, they are yet to provide a timeline for when women and girls will be allowed to return.