Sequestered at home in a remote Afghan town, 18-year-old Shekiba often roams the house hunting for the patchy Internet signal that is her last link to an education. Shekiba has turned to online learning since the Taliban returned to power in 2021 and shut her out of classrooms, signing up for live economics lectures she squints at on a pocket-sized phone screen. She hopes to save for a laptop but is forced to buy expensive mobile data packages that still don’t guarantee a signal in the town of Ishkashim perched high in mountainous Badakhshan province. “If there were no Internet issues, it would be much easier,” she said by phone. “But it’s better to carry on, instead of sitting and doing nothing.” “I just hope to study, to succeed, to progress. If one person progresses in a family, the whole family progresses, as well as the whole society.” Boys and men returned to classes with the start of the new school year in Afghanistan on Wednesday, but girls and women will be left behind again by a Taliban government education blockade, barring them from joining secondary-level classes, that is part of a raft of restrictions the United Nations has labelled “gender apartheid”.