Tens of thousands of girls were due to return to secondary school across Afghanistan Wednesday, more than seven months after the Taliban seized power and imposed harsh restrictions on the rights of women to be educated, NDTV reported.
All schools were closed because of the Covid-19 pandemic when the Taliban took over in August -- but only boys and some younger girls were allowed to resume classes two months later.
The international community has made the right to education for all a sticking point in negotiations over aid and recognition, with several nations and organisations offering to pay teachers.
The education ministry said schools would reopen Wednesday across several provinces -- including the capital Kabul -- but those in the southern region of Kandahar, the Taliban's spiritual heartland, will not open until next month.
The ministry said reopening the schools was always a government objective and the Taliban were not bowing to pressure, according to NDTV.
"We are not reopening the schools to make the international community happy, nor are we doing it to gain recognition from the world," said Aziz Ahmad Rayan, a ministry spokesman.
"We are doing it as part of our responsibility to provide education and other facilities to our students," he told AFP.
The Taliban had insisted they wanted to ensure schools for girls aged 12 to 19 were segregated and would operate according to Islamic principles.
"We are behind in our studies already," said Raihana Azizi, 17, as she prepared to attend class dressed in a black abaya, headscarf and veil over her face.
The Taliban have imposed a slew of restrictions on women, effectively banning them from many government jobs, policing what they wear and preventing them from travelling outside of their cities alone.
They have also detained several women's rights activists, NDTV reported.
Despite the schools reopening, barriers to girls returning to education remain, with many families suspicious of the Taliban and reluctant to allow their daughters outside.
Others see little point in girls learning at all.
"Those girls who have finished their education have ended up sitting at home and their future is uncertain," said Heela Haya, 20, from Kandahar, who has decided to quit school.