The male university students resumed their studies in Afghanistan yesterday after the long winter holidays, but the female students continue to be banned by the government.
The ban on university studies is one of the many restrictions imposed on women by the Taliban since they returned to power in August 2021.
Discrimination against women in Afghanistan has been condemned around the world, including in Muslim countries.
“I am heartbroken to see how men go to university and we stay at home,” lamented Rahela, 22, in the central province of Gaur. “This is discrimination against women because Islam allows us to have higher education. No one should stop us from learning,” she claimed.
The Taliban government imposed the ban after accusing the female students of ignoring the strict dress code for women and the requirement that a male relative be accompanied to campus.
Previously, most universities had gender-segregated entrances and classrooms, only allowing women to take classes with female professors or old men.
“It is painful to see how thousands of girls are deprived of access to an education,” said Mohamad Haseeb Habibzadah, a computer science student at Herat University.
In Kabul, Ejatullah Nejati, an engineering student, said that the right to study is fundamental. “Even if they attend classes every other day, this is not a problem. They have the right to an education,” Nejati said upon his arrival on campus.
THE FEAR OF THE GOVERNMENT
In a deeply conservative and patriarchal society like Afghanistan, it is rare for men to protest for women’s rights.
But in December, Professor Ismail Mashal raised a storm by tearing up their diplomas live on television. The gesture was intended to show his rejection of the veto imposed on female education.
In a deeply conservative and patriarchal society like Afghanistan’s it is rare to see a man protesting for women’s rights. The professor resigned from three private universities in Kabul.
The day after his arrest, his assistant stated that he was “ruthlessly beaten and taken away in a very disrespectful manner by members of the Islamic Emirate (official name of the Taliban regime)”. Mashal was released on Sunday after a 32-day detention, his assistant Farid Ahmad Fazli announced.
Waheeda Durrani, who until the veto was studying journalism in Herat, said the Taliban government wants the girls to continue without an education.
“If Afghan girls and women get an education, they will never accept a government that exploits Islam and the Koran,” she said. “They would defend their rights. And that is the fear that the government has,” she added.
Several Taliban officials have said the ban on women is temporary, but they have also not reopened girls’ secondary schools, which have been closed for more than a year.
They have come up with numerous excuses for the closure, from lack of funds to time to adjust the educational program in line with Islamic guidelines.
The reality, according to Taliban authorities, is that the ultra-conservative clerics who advise the country’s supreme leader, Hibatullah Akhundzada, are deeply skeptical of modern education for women.
Since coming to power, the Taliban have excluded women from public life. Without access to many government jobs, many are relegated to the home, where they earn a small salary for staying at home.
They are also banned from parks, fairs, gyms and public bathrooms, and must be covered in public.
Richard Bennett, UN special rapporteur on human rights in Afghanistan, pointed out that the intention of the Taliban is to disregard the rights of women and girls in order to “erase them from public life.”
“This may constitute a crime of gender persecution, for which the authorities may be held responsible,” she stated.
The international community has insisted on conditioning aid to the country and the recognition of the Taliban regime on the right of women to education.
So far, no country has recognized the Taliban government.