'Hugs, screams and cries:' Afghan women anguished at university ban - GulfToday

'Hugs, screams and cries:' Afghan women anguished at university ban


Afghan women weep outside Edrak University in Kabul, after Taliban security forces enforced a higher education ban for women by blocking their access to universities on Wednesday. AP

Female university students in Afghanistan were turned away from campuses on Wednesday after the Taliban-run administration said women would be suspended from tertiary education.

The decision to bar women was announced on Tuesday evening in a letter to universities from the higher education ministry, drawing condemnation from foreign governments and the United Nations.

"We went to university, the Taliban were at the gate and told us 'you are not allowed to enter the university until further notice'... everyone was crying," said Shaista, a business studies student at a private university in Kabul.

A professor at another university in Kabul who declined to be identified said staff turned female students away at the gate as they had no choice but to implement the instruction.

Women university students across Afghanistan were in disbelief on Wednesday, barred by the Taliban from studying and condemned to a life of feeling "like caged birds."

In Kabul, home to the country's largest universities, students gathered outside campuses dressed in the black cloaks and tight headscarves imposed by the Taliban since they took control last year.

Elsewhere, students sought consolation from friends and family as they digested news of the university ban.

"We all felt like caged birds, we hugged each other, screamed, and cried 'why is this happening to us'?" Amini, a 23-year-old nursing student in Kunduz, told AFP.

She was with her three sisters — two already barred from secondary school and another studying for a degree – when social media exploded with the news of the late-night order.

Faculties across the country were already closed for the winter break, but students had been able to access campuses for exams or to study in libraries.

In Kandahar, the cradle and spiritual heart of the Taliban movement, male students were able to sit exams in classrooms still segregated with screens, which until the day before made it possible for women to study. Now, the university gates shut them out.

 'No one will listen'

 A Taliban guard told AFP that some women had not been aware of the exclusion until the morning. "My sister is studying computer science... I didn't inform her last night. I know she would be traumatised," said a young male law student in Kabul, who asked not to be named for fear of reprisals.

"It really expresses (the Taliban's) illiteracy and poor knowledge of Islam and human rights. If the situation continues like this, the future will be worse. Everyone is scared."

In the eastern city of Jalalabad, some male students walked out of their exams in protest against the decision.

A professor at another university in Kabul who declined to be identified said staff turned female students away at the gate as they had no choice but to implement the instruction.

Afghangirls-students Afghan female students walk on their on way back home past a private university in Kabul. AFP

The bar on women students is likely to complicate the Taliban administration's efforts to gain international recognition and to get rid of sanctions that are severely hampering the economy.

The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan asked the Taliban-run administration to "immediately" revoke the decision.

It also urged the authorities to reopen girls' schools beyond the sixth grade and "end all measures preventing women and girls from participating fully in daily public life."

Third-year political science student Hassiba, based in Kabul, said she was studying for her exams when she heard about the announcement.

"It's too hard to accept, it's unbelievable, I can't believe it's happening," she said.

"When there is no education for women in a society, how can we be hopeful for a bright future?" According to the late on Tuesday announcement, the decision was made by the Taliban administration's cabinet.

Afghanstudents-Kabul Male students attend class bifurcated by a curtain separating males and females at a university in Kandahar. AFP

Several Taliban officials, including the deputy foreign minister and administration spokesperson, have spoken out in favour of female education in recent months.

The supreme Taliban spiritual leader, based in the southern city of Kandahar, has the final say on major decisions.

Diplomatic and Taliban official sources have told Reuters the issue had been under discussion by the leadership.

"This decision had been anticipated for weeks, prompting some Western officials to start talking about additional sanctions and further economic restrictions," said Graeme Smith, senior consultant at International Crisis Group.

"But the flood of outrage from the West will strengthen the resolve of the Taliban leadership, which defines itself as a bulwark against the outside world."

Taliban leadership have said they want peaceful relations with the international community but that foreigners should not interfere in domestic affairs.

Most girls are unable to go to school beyond primary classes. The Taliban administration has said it is working on a plan for girls' secondary education but has not given a time frame.

Reuters / AFP

Related articles