On February 26, Iran’s Deputy Education Minister Younes Panahi revealed that ‘some people’ are poisoning schoolgirls in Qom, Iran. IRNA quoted Panahi, “After the poisoning of several students in Qom schools, it was found that some people wanted all schools, especially girls’ schools, to be closed.”
Reportedly the poisoning cases were first reported in November 2022 amid protests against Iran’s regime over Mahsa Amini’s death due to head trauma in police custody for wearing an improper hijab. Since then, hundreds of cases of respiratory poisoning have been found among schoolgirls.
In the first incident, 18 schoolgirls were taken to the hospital after complaints of nausea, headaches, coughing, breathing difficulties, and palpitations, among other symptoms.
On February 14, the parents of poisoned schoolgirls gathered around the city’s governorate to demand explanations from authorities. On the next day, Government spokesperson Ali Bahadori Jahromi claimed that the authorities were investigating to find the cause of the poisonings. However, Prosecutor General Mohammad Jafar Montazeri recently ordered a judicial probe into the poisonings.
Recently, Nafiseh Moradi, a researcher of Islamic studies at Al Zahra University, published a commentary on Qom News speculating that ultra-religious groups similar to Afghanistan’s Taliban might be behind poisoning schoolgirls. She speculated that the ultra-religious groups were inspired by the Taliban’s ban on girl education. Therefore, the poisonings were being done to instil fear among girls and their parents to prevent them from educating girls. In addition, she voiced her suspicions about the visible segregation based on gender, with the illness disproportionately affecting schoolgirls.
In the latest decree, the Taliban has banned female students from sitting in university entrance exams. Another decree followed the decision from the Taliban prohibiting women from working in non-governmental organisations, which sparked national and international outrage.
As Afghan women continue to grapple with challenges related to education due to Taliban-imposed bans, the United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, in a recent statement, said that the females in war-torn Afghanistan are living in exile in their own country.
The UN Chief reiterated that the fundamental rights of Afghan women and girls are trampled due to the ban on education by the de-facto authorities. In a statement, the UN said that Guterres expressed his concerns about the right of women and girls in Afghanistan.