The safety of women and girls and protection of girls’ education in Afghanistan is a growing concern in the wake of recent attacks.
A bombing in Afghanistan’s capital city Kabul on Saturday killed at least 85 people and targeted girls as they were leaving a school building to prepare for the end of Ramadan, according to CNN. Most of the casualties were students, and the attack outside of the Sayed Al-Shuhada high school left 147 people wounded. Blood-covered books and backpacks were left at the scene.
The strength of the blast was so powerful that some of the children could not be found at all, an Afghan official told Reuters. Families continued to search for their children at hospitals on Sunday.
No one has claimed responsibility yet for detonating a car bomb and setting off two more bombs in the predominately Shiite Muslim Dasht-e-Barchi neighborhood. Shiites have historically been targeted by the Islamic State, a radical Sunni Islamist militant group, while the Taliban, a Sunni Islamist militant group that believes educating women goes against Islam and has staged attacks on schoolgirls in the country before, has denied any connections to the bomb attack.
A man whose niece suffered injuries from the attack told CNN that his family blames the Afghan government for not providing security to protect the Hazara people, who inhabit Dasht-e-Barchi
and are considered to be the most oppressed group in Afghanistan. A bombing at an education center in the neighborhood with a death toll of at least 24 people, mostly students, occurred in October.
The man also fears that the situation will escalate once US troops leave Afghanistan by Sept. 11. The Taliban has ramped up attacks since US President Joe Biden’s troop withdrawal announcement in April.
Security has scaled up across Kabul in the wake of the attack but authorities have said they cannot protect all schools.
Attacks on activists, politicians, and women journalists have increased in the area and human rights advocates warn that women and girls will be the most vulnerable if violence continues to rise.
“For three years now, our education centers have been the target of bloody attacks,” Roshan Ghaznawi, a women’s rights activist in Kabul, told the New York Times. “This is not the first attack, and it will not be the last, but we will never give up. If 30 people were killed in this incident, now the hearts of 30 million people are wounded, and the hearts and souls of 30 million people are in pain.”
World leaders including Pope Francis and the United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres have condemned the bombing.
An estimated 3.7 million children are out of school in Afghanistan and 60% of them are girls. Almost 52% of girls have experienced physical violence in the country, according to a World Health Organization report.
Human rights groups say that increased violence and conflict threaten to undo any progress that has been made to keep girls in school.