News & Current Affairs

Afghanistan's Taliban Bans Women From University

By Azeezat Okunlola | Dec 21, 2022

The Taliban's decision to exclude women from attending universities in Afghanistan has been widely condemned and has left many young Afghans feeling hopeless.

On Tuesday, the minister of higher education said that the rollback would become effective immediately.

Girls have not been allowed to attend secondary schools since the Taliban regrouped last year; thus, this ban severely limits their educational opportunities.

On Wednesday, many women demonstrated in Kabul, the city's capital.Protesters from the Afghanistan Women's Unity and Solidarity grup said, "Today, we come out on the streets of Kabul to raise our voices against the closure of the girls' universities."

International bodies and individual nations have widely denounced this decision since it reverts Afghanistan to a time when the Taliban banned girls from attending school.

According to the United Nations Special Rapporteur to Afghanistan, this "represents a new low, further violating the right to equal education and deepens the erasure of women from Afghan society."

U.S. officials warned that the Taliban would face "consequences" if they took such a step.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken said, "The Taliban cannot expect to be a legitimate member of the international community until they respect the rights of all in Afghanistan. No country can thrive when half of its population is held back."

Many female students have spoken out to the BBC about the distress they are experiencing. One student at Kabul University lamented, "They destroyed the only bridge that could connect me with my future," one Kabul University student said.

"How can I react? I believed that I could study and change my future or bring the light to my life but they destroyed it."

Another student told the BBC she was a woman who had "lost everything".

The Taliban's decree, she said, was counter to "the rights that Islam and Allah have given us" (she had been studying Sharia Islamic law).

She told the BBC, "They have to go to other Islamic countries and see that their actions are not Islamic."

Throughout this year, Western countries have insisted that the Taliban, in exchange for formal recognition as Afghanistan's government, increase funding for women's education.

A foreign minister in neighbouring Pakistan, however, expressed "disappointment" with the Taliban's decision but continued to call for dialogue.

Although there have been many defeats regarding women's education and other things, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari believes that the quickest road to their goal is through Kabul and the interim government.

When they took over last year after the United States withdrew its forces, the Taliban made some promises about instituting a more relaxed form of rule. However, conservative Islamists have maintained their efforts to restrict women's rights and freedoms.

Hibatullah Akhundzada, leader of the Taliban, and his inner circle have long been antagonistic toward girls' and women's access to modern education.

More moderate authorities have spoken out against this viewpoint, and observers have said this topic has been a source of friction between different groups all year.

But on Tuesday, the education ministry announced that its researchers had examined the university's curriculum and environment and that female students' enrollment would be suspended "until a proper environment is developed."

In addition, it stated that "citizens should not be frightened" because it would soon create such a situation.

In March, the Taliban said they would allow girls to return to high school, but on the day they were set to resume classes, they changed their minds.

This stricter enforcement follows months of increasing regulations targeting women. In November, women in the nation's capital were not allowed in public spaces such as parks, gymnasiums, or public baths.

Afghan university professor and American activist say the Taliban's decision to bar female students from higher education cements their exclusion from society.

"This was the last thing the Taliban could do. Afghanistan is not a country for women but instead a cage for women," Humaira Qaderi told the BBC.

Three months earlier, the Taliban had permitted thousands of girls and women to take entrance examinations to universities throughout most districts in the country.

However, they were limited in the fields to which they may apply; engineering, economics, veterinary science, and agriculture were all off-limits, as were certain forms of journalism.

Since the Taliban takeover in 2021, universities have been working under restrictive regulations for women, and Tuesday's ruling just worsened things.

There were separate entrances and classrooms for the sexes, and women were only allowed to be taught by other women or older men.

On the other hand, girls and women could still attend school. On Tuesday, UNESCO reported that the percentage of women enrolled in and graduating from higher education institutions had climbed by a factor of 20 between 2001 and 2018 (the years when the Taliban were in power and their reign was interrupted).

The BBC reports that other women have spoken out about giving up after the Taliban were reinstated in power because there were "too many difficulties" to overcome.

Based on interviews with senior Taliban members conducted over the past year, we know that opinions within the Taliban on the subject of girls' access to school are divided.

Some Taliban members have remarked on and off the record that they are hopeful and are actively trying to ensure girls get an education.

Even though girls haven't been allowed to attend school for more than a year, they were allowed to take their secondary school graduation examinations in 31 of Afghanistan's 34 provinces two weeks ago.