Hopes were raised in March: just before the start of the new school year, the Taliban Ministry of Education proclaimed that everyone would be allowed to return. But on March 23, the day of the reopening, the decision was abruptly reversed, surprising even ministry officials. It seems that at the last minute, the supreme leader of the Taliban, Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada, bowed to the opposition.

Shekiba Qaderi, a 16-year-old, recalled how she showed up that day, ready to start grade 10. She and all her classmates were laughing and excited, until a teacher came in and told them to go home. The girls burst into tears, she said. “It was the worst time of our lives.”

Since then, she has been trying to continue her studies at home, reading her textbooks, novels and history books. She studies English through films and YouTube videos.

Unequal access to education runs through families. Shekiba and a younger sister cannot go to her school, but her two brothers can. Her older sister is studying law at a private university. But that’s little comfort, said their father, Mohammad Shah Qaderi. Most teachers have left the country, lowering the quality of education.

Even if the young woman obtains a university degree, “what is the advantage?” asked Qaderi, a 58-year-old retired government employee.

“She won’t have a job. The Taliban will not allow him to work,” he said.