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Centre for Education and International Development (CEID), IOE


A forum for staff, students, alumni and guests to write about and around CEID's five thematic areas of engagement.


Taliban prohibition on women attending university

By CEID Blogger, on 9 January 2023

By Shuhra Koofi

Student, MA Education and International Development

On 20th December 2022, the Taliban’s Minister of Higher Education in Afghanistan released a statement prohibiting women from attending university. The statement read: “You all are informed to implement the mentioned order of suspending education of females until further notice.” This resembles statements issued from 1996-2001, when the Taliban were first in power and issued wide bans on education for girls. At that time, my mother was a medical student in Kabul University. After missing out one year of her studies, she decided to get married and resumed her education only when the Taliban’s regime was overthrown in 2001. She is now a law and political science graduate of Kabul University. The return of this form of prohibition on girls’ education means depriving a generation from progress. It took my mother 20 years to catch up following the period when she was banned from university. The country now faces the same kind of scenario where girls and women, for more than one year are not allowed to continue their education beyond a secondary school level. This will not only impact individuals like my mother, but rather it will impact everyone.

Since 15th August 2021, when the Taliban re-took power, Afghanistan has entered an era of darkness for the women of the country. The Taliban de facto authorities in 2021 banned girls from attending schools above 6th grade. Nearly 850,000 out of 1.1 million girls of secondary school age have not attended schools since the decree was issued. The 2022 ban on women’s participation in universities further restricts education equality.

These prohibitions have created tensions inside and outside the country. No pretext was provided justifying the decree before it came into action. A sudden move was announced, followed by prompt implementation of the order by Taliban’s officials. The decree came into effect on the last day of university exams, and female students, who were sitting exams, were summarily asked to step out of classrooms. Some male students opposed the ban on female colleagues and declined to proceed with their own exams. In addition, more than 100 university professors resigned in protest.

The Taliban’s decision to exclude women from many forms of education, work and public life has faced resistance from women inside Afghanistan and from the Afghan women politicians, feminists, and activists living in exile. This resistance gained momentum as the United Nations (UN) issued a statement condemning the Taliban decision and asking for its immediate revocation.  The UN statement read “suspending women from education is in clear violation of Afghanistan’s obligations under international law”.

Many Afghan women find the decision to deny girls from basic rights baseless, as they believe that the Taliban’s toxic ideology is not founded on Islamic principles or Afghanistan’s historic ethos. Rather, it promotes components of patriarchal custom practiced in some areas of Afghanistan, along with the Taliban’s one-sided interpretations of Islam, taught in certain religious schools. In particular, the decision of the Taliban to deprive girls from education has no legitimate religious justification as the first word in the holy Quran is “Eqra”, which commands Muslims to read. While there are various interpretations of the Quran’s verses, no one can agree that the word “Eqra” may carry a different meaning other than “read”, which is the first command given to Muslims. However, the Taliban are denying this fact and inaccurately interpreting Sharia for their own gains. “I study Sharia Islamic law and argue the Taliban’s order contradicts the rights that Islam and Allah have given us”, says a Kabul university student forced to stay home and disrupt her studies, in an interview with the BBC. She adds; “They have to go to other Islamic countries and see that their actions are not Islamic.”

The Taliban justify their decision by claiming the need to change school and university curricula. Nevertheless, there are fears that changes in the education system in Afghanistan through the new curricula will raise a new generation, who strongly support the Taliban’s extreme ideology, believe that a woman’s place in society is at home, promote suicide attacks and the use of violence to attain political aims, perceive backing other terror groups in the region and beyond as a religious duty, and support, as a common practice, the killing of those who oppose them.

The Taliban’s actions since coming to power contradict promises made during the Doha peace talks, on February 29, 2020. A member of the Taliban’s negotiations team at those talks, Shahabuddin Delawar, stated “Education is the right of women, starting from 1st grade of school up to PhD”.  What the Taliban pledged during peace negotiations is fundamentally different to what the group has been doing since seizing power. Taliban officials during the peace talks committed to protect Afghan women’s rights, yet, they have issued decrees of prohibition on women, such as; prohibition on traveling alone, attending school and university, visiting parks, obtaining employment, and having access to their means of sustaining their livelihoods and living as human beings. Taliban rulers, have established the world’s first gender-apartheid system through a most restrictive government, removing women from public life and forcing thousands into exile.

To address what women in Afghan universities are going through, a number of actions can be taken by UK academics and universities. These include: giving Afghan feminist leaders in exile a platform to talk about the deteriorating situation of women in Afghanistan, offering scholarships for Afghan women students to study in the UK, and providing online courses for them to continue their education inside Afghanistan. Seminars and conferences on Afghanistan are needed to place pressure on the UK government to impose conditions on their humanitarian aid to the government of the Taliban as a means of political pressure on the Taliban. Above all, a commitment in academic discourse must be made not to normalise the events in Afghanistan, or dismiss them as a local cultural phenomenon: on the contrary, we must ensure that the voices of women and girls protesting this regime are kept centre-stage, for theirs are the voices that matter most in this story.

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