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Taliban takes school and work from Afghan women and girls, but it can't take their hope

Taliban stops school for girls over 12
Taliban stops school for girls over 12 05:24

Kabul — It's time for school at the Al Fatha Academy. Both boys and girls study at the school in Afghanistan's capital, but for the past month, only girls aged 11 and under have been allowed to attend classes.

Afghanistan's new Taliban rulers have forbidden girls over the age of 12 — millions of them across the country — from getting an education.

CBS News correspondent Imtiaz Tyab walked into a 6th grade classroom, which has the oldest girls still allowed to attend school, and asked their teacher to relay a question in their native language of Dari: Did the kids in the class — all of them — want to come back to school next year for the 7th grade?

Every single child raised a hand.

Tyab met some 10-year-old girls learning English who said they were worried that next year would be their last in any school. 

"Yes, I am very afraid," said one of the girls. "I want to go to school!"

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Afghan school girls - still permitted to attend class under the new Taliban regime as they are under the age of 12 - speak to CBS News in a classroom in Kabul, Afghanistan.  CBS News

Some of the boys in their class said they also wanted to see their female classmates come back, because, to them, the girls are their equals. 

"In other countries, girls and women can do anything!" one of the boys told CBS News. "They can work; they can study; they can do anything. Now, in Afghanistan now they cannot do anything!"

Taliban officials won't say why they have banned older girls from education, but they insist they will not repeat the harsh rule of their previous reign over Afghanistan in the 1990s, when the group banned most girls' education and forbade women from going out in public without a male guardian.

Across Kabul, however, the Taliban seem to have been busy erasing women and girls from all aspects of public life. Even their images on posters and billboards, once common, have been painted over.

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Since the Taliban's ban on education for girls over 11, Huda Sediqi, 14, has been stuck at home taking online courses in Kabul, Afghanistan. CBS News

But many Afghan girls refuse to be erased. Fourteen-year-old Huda Sediqi is among them. 

Since the Taliban's ban on education, she's been stuck at home taking online courses. Sediqi told Tyab that with every passing day, she's only getting angrier.

So, what would she say to the Taliban leaders, if she had the opportunity?

"I wouldn't talk," she told CBS News defiantly. "They're not worth talking to… I don't want to see their faces." 

They've taken too much from her already.

Sediqi's mother, Najmussama Shafajo, is one Afghanistan's most respected obstetricians.

The Taliban told her — and many other essential female health workers — that they can still go to work. But as much as her patients need her, Shafajo told CBS News that her three daughters need her more, and they deserve the same kind of education she was able to get as a girl.

The drastic changes in her country have forced her to make some gruelling decisions.

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Afghan obstetrician Najmussama Shafaj sits with her three daughters as she speaks with CBS News correspondent Imtiaz Tyab at her home in Kabul, Afghanistan. CBS News

"If I have any chance, I will leave," she told Tyab. "Until now, I decided not to leave Afghanistan because I love my country a lot — even, I love [it] more than my heart, my body… But right now, because of my children, I have to go."

It's a decision that many of Afghanistan's best and brightest are now making, and it's leading to what many have called a "brain drain."

With Taliban enforcers breaking up even the smallest protests staged by brave women demanding their rights — sometimes violently — a growing number have said they simply don't believe they have any choice but to leave.  

"I'm still thinking the Taliban really don't like women at all," Mehbouba Seraj, who never minces her words, told CBS News. "They really don't like us."

An Afghan-American, Seraj has been a women's rights activist for decades. This year, she was named one of Time magazine's "100 most influential people." 

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Afghan-American human rights activist Mahbouba Seraj speaks with CBS News in Kabul, Afghanistan. CBS News

Taliban or not, Seraj told Tyab that she wasn't about to go anywhere. She understands that many other women have made a different choice, but for her, there's still hope.

"I know that a whole lot of them [Afghan women] right now, they think that they need to leave, but there's going to be a bunch of them that they really do believe that they need to stay," she told CBS News. "And I'm going to be with them for as long as I can, as long as I have the life and the energy to be."

To the young Afghan women and girls who have been suddenly denied the right of an education: "I want to say to them: 'My girls, my dears, my daughters — just take a deep breath… don't lose hope... Don't despair, because something is going to happen. I can promise you that much,'" Seraj said.

She urged them not to let hopelessness take over, "because that is going to destroy you more than you're not going to school."

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Seraj vowed to keep fighting for a better future, "until the last breath I take."

"I'm 73 years old," Seraj told CBS News. "So, I don't know how much I'm going to be living… but if I don't see it, my girls will see it. The other generations will see it, and maybe one day they will tell it to the wind and the wind will bring it for me."

Across the generations, Afghan women and girls remain defiant - determined to build a brighter future for themselves and their country, despite the odds.

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