And here we go again: another depressing story of misogyny in Afghanistan.
On Tuesday, May 29, 160 schoolgirls and teachers were admitted to a hospital after a suspected poisoning at a school in Afghanistan’s northern Takhar province.
The female students, ranging in age from 10 to 20 years old, had been poisoned in their classrooms by a contaminated spray that caused the girls to suffer from vomiting, headaches, and dizziness. The attack occurred at the Ashan Dara Girls School in Talokhan, the provincial capital.
A report by Radio Free Afghanistan said that some of the girls reported smelling a foul odor before falling unconscious. One of the victims of the attack told the press that, “When I entered the class I smelled something and then I started to vomit and fall unconscious; I don’t remember what happened after that.”
Third Large-Scale Attack Against Female Students This Year
This is the third such large-scale attack against female students this year. Last Wednesday, over 120 Afghan girls and three teachers in the Takhar province were poisoned when a toxic substance was released into their school’s air.
In April, also in Takhar province, more than 150 women and girls were hospitalized – not a toxic spray this time, but the cause was apparently poisoned well water at a school. Local health officials blamed the acts on extremists opposed to women’s education. The education ministry of Afghanistan announced earlier this month that 550 schools have been closed in 11 different provinces with strong Taliban influence.
According to CNN, the Taliban have denied responsibility for last week’s attack and claimed that US and NATO forces are responsible in an attempt to “defame” the Taliban.
While nearly all the incidents involve girls, earlier this month, nearly 400 boys at a school in Khost province fell ill after drinking water from a well that a health official said may have been poisoned.
At other times, hardline Islamists have thrown acid in the faces of women and girls as they were walking to school.
Fears For The Future Of Afghanistan
The battle indicates broader fears about Afghanistan’s future amid the drawdown of U.S. troops in the country. NATO leaders last week signed off on President Obama’s exit strategy from Afghanistan, which calls for an end to combat operations next year and the withdrawal of the U.S.-led international military force by the end of 2014.
Since the 2001 toppling of the Taliban, which banned education for women and girls, females have returned to schools, especially in Kabul. There are now more than a million Afghan girls attending schools throughout the country.
However, periodic attacks still occur against girls, teachers and their school buildings, usually in the more conservative south and east of the country, from where the Taliban insurgency draws most support. Observers also note that abuse of women remains common in the post-Taliban era and is often accepted in conservative and traditional families, where women are barred from school and sometimes subjected to domestic violence.
Anyone who can hate children enough to poison them has clearly lost touch with his own humanity. For the sake of these girls, the Afghan government must make the safety of its students a priority.
Photo Credit: Michael Foley Photography