After the closure of girls’ secondary schools and then an attack on her education centre, a student says her hopes have been dashed by the Taliban’s recent university ban for women.
"Unless the situation changes, I see no future for me in the country that I love"
Afghan Witness changed the name of the individual interviewed.
Frozan – not her real name – had just two months left of 12th grade when the Taliban took over Afghanistan in August 2021. Her education had already suffered long breaks due to Covid-19, and she was desperate to graduate. But when the Taliban returned to power, classroom doors remained closed for most of the country’s teenage girls.
The de facto authorities didn’t initially declare a direct ban on girls’ secondary education in Afghanistan, and there were some locally negotiated settlements where girls did go to school, but in March 2022, the Taliban U-turned on their pledge to reopen girls’ secondary schools. There has been no indication of when they might reopen.
Frozan and her female classmates were eventually allowed to graduate without completing 12th grade, after the Taliban’s education ministry waived their last two months of school.
“Despite the fear and danger we faced, I was still determined to continue my education and strive for a better future,” she explains.
Set on becoming a doctor, Frozan enrolled in a preparation course for the “Kankor” – Afghanistan’s university entrance exam. However, the education centre was located one hour from her home, and, as well as the long journey she had to make daily, Frozan was also concerned about the volatile security situation.
“Every day I would leave with the thought of whether I would make it back home safely,” she says.
Despite her fears, she studied hard and was determined to succeed. Then, tragedy struck: in September 2022, just 20 days before Frozan was due to sit her Kankor exam, a suicide bombing targeted her education centre. According to AP, the explosion killed as many as 52 people, the majority of whom were teenage girls and women. No group claimed the attack.
“This event was a turning point for me and my classmates,” Frozan says.
“It made us realise that our dreams of education and a better future were constantly at risk because of the Taliban’s extremist ideology.”
Even after this traumatic experience, Frozan remained focused on her studies. She took the Kankor exam and was accepted to study medicine at university.
But Frozan’s education again came to a standstill in December 2022, when the Taliban’s Higher Education Ministry issued a letter instructing public and private universities to suspend access to female students immediately. Despite protests in multiple provinces and the global backlash triggered by the ban, acting higher education minister Neda Mohammad Nadeem defended the decision in an interview with state broadcaster, RTA.
Frozan says she had been preparing to register for her course, but found the gates to her university closed.
“I had held out some hope when the Taliban returned to power that they would not close the universities,” she says.
“But my hopes were dashed, and now, talking about my future with my family only brings pain.”
Due to economic hardship and limited job opportunities, Frozan explains that higher education had been off-limits for many even before the Taliban issued the ban.
“Now, with universities closed, the situation is even worse,” she adds.
With her ambitions to study medicine on hold, Frozan says she has been left feeling hopeless and unmotivated. Her family want to send her abroad to continue her education, but she says they can’t afford it, and even if they could, not being able to speak English is a significant barrier.
“My brother tells me to remain hopeful, but it's been a year and the situation shows no signs of improvement,” Frozan says.
“Unless the situation changes, I see no future for me in the country that I love.”
Interview by Afghan Witness