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Afghan women protest ban on university education

January 10, 2023

Original Article:

The Taliban announced on Yalda Night, celebrated on winter solstice in Afghanistan and the wider region, that women will be barred from universities. Across the country, armed Taliban guards refused women access to university buildings.

"I am shocked," Nazifa Zaki, a student at Ghor University in western Afghanistan, told DW.  "I feel hopeless, because an entire generation, half the population, is being excluded from education." Massouda, a woman who studied in Kabul and hails from Jowzjan province, is aghast. "This decision by the Islamic Emirate is unfair."

In Afghanistan, girls and women may now only attend school until sixth grade. On Thursday, in some Afghan cities, girls were even sent home from primary schools. Female teachers reportedly lost their jobs. A gathering of school principals and spiritual leaders this week said women in Afghanistan should no longer be allowed to work as teachers or visit mosques, though an official decision has not yet been announced.

"This will greatly harm Afghanistan and the people of Afghanistan," Shaharzad Akbar, the former head of the Afghan Human Rights Commission, told DW. "In a society where half the population has no access to education, the population will remain poor and dependent on the international community." For two years now, Afghanistan has been blighted by a hunger crisis. According to the UN, this winter, some 23 million Afghans will lack food.

Outrage over move
Numerous protests were staged by students and teachers following the ban. A group of male medical students, for instance,got up during an exam and left the room in protest. Students gathered outside Nangarhar University, in eastern Afghanistan, to protest for hours. Dozens of women took to  the streets in Afghan cities, chanting slogans like "everyone or no one" and "education for all."

The Taliban beat protesters to break up demonstrations. Across the country, male university lecturers stopped working, or quit their jobs, in protest over the ban.

Obaidullah Wardak, who teaches at Kabul's mathematics department, was one of the first to quit. He saw no other choice. "I could not reconcile this with my conscience, I wanted to show solidarity," he told DW. While he said he doubted the Taliban would be deterred by the resignation, he said he hoped many more would do likewise.

Abas Basir, who served as education minister under former President Ashraf Ghani until he was ousted in August 2021, thinks that persistent pressure from ordinary Afghans will force the Taliban to change course. "When teachers and lecturers collectively quit and leave universities and schools, this could lead to a positive result," he told DW.

Solidarity with Afghan women
Afghan politician and Islamic feminist Shukria Barakzai says now is the time for global action. Barakzai once studied in Kabul but was unable to finish her degree because the Taliban came to power in the 1990s. "The Taliban have proven that they systematically discriminate against women," she told DW. "The people of Afghanistan and the international community should push back collectively and not forget the responsibility they hold towards women."

Even some Islamic countries like Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Qatar, which are known to have curtailed women's rights, have condemned the Afghan education ban as "inhumane" and "un-Islamic." The Taliban, meanwhile, do not recognize these countries as Islamic and instead believe they are governing the only country where Islamic law is properly applied.

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