Eighty Afghan Schoolgirls Poisoned — Taliban Suspected

Emblem of Afghanistan
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It’s hard to imagine behavior so misogynist and vicious, but last year several girls in Kandahar had acid thrown in their faces for daring to…attend school.

In the past three weeks, in its ongoing efforts to deter young women from getting an education, the Taliban have allegedly poisoned more than 80 schoolchildren with noxious gas, sending them to the hospital, reports msnbc:.

The Taliban and other conservative extremist groups in Afghanistan who oppose female education have been known to target schoolgirls. Girls were not allowed to attend school when the Taliban controlled most of Afghanistan until they were ousted in the 2001 U.S.-led invasion.

Last year, dozens of schoolgirls were hospitalized in Kapisa province, just northeast of Kabul, after collapsing with headaches and nausea. An unusual smell filled the schoolyard before the students fell ill…

Teachers stricken as well
Anesa, a 9-year-old girl who was among those hospitalized Sunday, said she noticed a strange odor and then saw two of her teachers fall unconscious.

“I came out from the main hall, and I saw lots of other girls scattered everywhere. They were not feeling good,” said Anesa, who gave only her first name. “Then suddenly I felt that I was losing my balance and falling.”

Azizullah Safar, head of the Kunduz hospital, said many of the girls were still suffering from pain, dizziness and vomiting.

“I was in class when a smell like a flower reached my nose,” said Sumaila, 12, one of the girls hospitalized. “I saw my classmates and my teacher collapse and when I opened my eyes I was in hospital.”

Reports The Independent:

But the militants denied responsibility. Spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said: “We strongly condemn such an act that targeted innocent schoolgirls by poisonous gas.”Some rights advocates suspect that opposition to female education is no longer the exclusive preserve of the Taliban. Instead, they claim that Islamists unaligned with the insurgency may sometimes be responsible.

A million girls attend school in Afghanistan – an unprecedented number but a sixth of the number of boys.

Afghanistan's Ambitious First Woman Governor

Habiba Sarabi
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Most Westerners know of Afghanistan’s Bamiyan province thanks to the massive stone Buddhas blown up there in 2001 by the Taliban.  Today it’s home to the nation’s first woman governor, Habiba Sarabi.

A province of 60,000 people, Bamiyan hopes to attract tourists. “Bamiyan people are very open,” Sarabi recently told the Financial Times.

A former pharmacist and minister of women’s affairs, she’s optimistic her gender will prove advantageous in her work, she told the Times:

“Always men think that they are leaders, they are the commanders, so they can do anything they want…If there will be  conflict between  two tribes, I will go to them and talk with them, they respect me as a sister, as a mother.”

Her province, she tells the Times, has 110,000 girl students — the highest rate in the country. Here’s a video (albeit 19 minutes long) that features her. Time magazine named her an environmental hero in 2008 for creating  Afghanistan’s first national park, Band-e-Amir, which opened in May.

The park has six spectacular lakes, a deep and striking shade of turquoise and the area was, in the 1970s, part of the “hippie trail”. My mom made the journey there then and was fortunate enough to have seen the Buddhas in their undamaged splendor. I’ve always wanted to visit Afghanistan. It will be interesting to see when or how tourism returns as a viable form of industry there.