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Female students and professors react to Taliban’s university ban

Afghan Witness spoke to a university student, and a professor who resigned after the Taliban’s announcement.


23 Dec 2022

On December 20, the Taliban announced that women would be banned from universities in Afghanistan. The spokesperson for the Taliban’s Ministry of Higher Education, Hafiz Ziaullah Hashemi, tweeted an image of a letter instructing all public and private universities and educational institutions to suspend access to female students immediately. 

The news sparked condemnation from governments and rights groups around the world, with videos of young women sobbing in their classrooms circulated on social media. in the days following the announcement, Afghan Witness (AW) verified protests in multiple provinces. There were reports that some women protesters and journalists were arrested, though AW cannot independently verify this.

The Taliban’s announcement follows a string of restrictions imposed on women in Afghanistan in recent months, including a ban on women visiting parks and gyms in Kabul and Faryab. Since the Taliban’s return to power in August 2021, girls above grade six have been unable to go to school, leading some teenage girls to turn to online or ‘secret’ schools.

One student AW spoke to described the closure of universities for female students as “heartbreaking”. 

Rayhana, not her real name, is fifteen years old. Since the closure of girls’ high schools, she’d been attending classes at two universities in Kabul. With restrictions now in place on women’s higher education, she feels her options have been taken away. 

“There is nowhere to go,” she tells AW. “There are no courses for female students, nothing, and they even closed the Madrassa [religious school]. There is no place for us to go and study.” 

Rayhana hoped to one day become a politician but says since the Taliban’s return, she has pushed this dream aside.

“My mum told me, you can’t just stay like this, you have to change your dreams, you have to change your thoughts – because you can’t be a politician here.” 

Instead, she decided she would aspire to be a doctor because the Taliban “have some respect for doctors”. She says she believes work would be easier to find as a doctor and that she would be able to contribute to her society and country. 

However, the recent suspension of higher education for women and girls has left Rayhana hopeless. With girls above grade six deprived of education, and restrictions on women’s access to employment, freedom of movement and dress, health professionals and experts have warned against increasing rates of mental health problems as women are left with few opportunities.

“Now there aren’t any educational centres, nor universities, nor schools – we don’t have anywhere to go, anywhere to study,” says Rayhana. “I don’t know – I’ve become hopeless now.”


University professor: “I saw no option but to resign”

AW also spoke to a professor at a university in Kabul, who says he resigned after hearing the announcement that women’s education would be suspended.

“My resignation was how I raised my voice,” says Prof. Zaryab, not his real name. “I saw no option but to resign from my post as a professor. I will never go and teach again until I see girls going back to their classes.”

Prof. Zaryab says he knows of five other professors who have resigned from universities in Kabul, Helmand, and Kunduz, and that he knows of others who plan on doing so. According to the BBC, about 50 male university professors at public and private institutions have resigned from their positions, while some male students have reportedly refused to sit their exams. 

Since our conversation with Prof. Zaryab, local media have reported that the Taliban ordered female lecturers, employees and university staff not to attend work. 

In an interview with Afghan television on Thursday, Nida Mohammad Nadim, the Taliban’s higher education minister, said the ban on women attending university was necessary to prevent the mixing of genders and because he believes some subjects being taught violated the principles of Islam. This is despite that in October, the Taliban imposed restrictions on which courses women can enrol in at public universities.

Professor Zaryab says regulations had already been put in place by the Taliban - classes were segregated for men and women, and the Taliban had specified that males should be taught by males, and females by females. According to the professor, the Taliban’s demands kept increasing.

“These restrictions have no legal or religious grounds,” he says, adding that policies are inconsistent due to individual officials taking matters into their own hands. He also tells AW that the Taliban have employed individuals in universities who do not have the required qualifications for the position.

Prof. Zaryab says he is not concerned for his own future, but for the future of Afghanistan’s youth and that of the country. With limited opportunities, especially for women and girls, he is worried more young people will leave. 

“I am deeply worried about Afghanistan’s youth, sisters, brothers, and future,” he says. “Their chance is taken away for them to serve their homeland, and instead, they will just leave.”

For further reading, see our recent report which includes open source analysis on the protests and other incidents relating to the university ban. 

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