Male students have trickled back to their classes after universities reopened in Afghanistan following a winter break, but women remain barred by the ruling Taliban.
The university ban is one of several restrictions imposed on women since the Taliban stormed back to power in August 2021 and has sparked global outrage.
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“It’s heartbreaking to see boys going to the university while we have to stay at home,” said Rahela, 22, from the central province of Ghor.
“This is gender discrimination against girls because Islam allows us to pursue higher education. Nobody should stop us from learning.”
The Taliban government imposed the ban accusing female students of ignoring a strict dress code and a requirement to be accompanied by a male relative to and from campus.
Most universities had already introduced gender-segregated entrances and classrooms, as well as allowing women to be taught only by female professors or old men.
“It’s painful to see that thousands of girls are deprived of education today,” Mohammad Haseeb Habibzadah, a student of computer science at Herat University, told AFP news agency.
“We are trying to address this issue by talking to lecturers and other students so that there can be a way where boys and girls could study and progress together.”
Ejatullah Nejati, an engineering student at Kabul University, Afghanistan’s largest, said it was a fundamental right of women to study.
“Even if they attend classes on separate days, it’s not a problem. They have a right to education and that right should be given to them,” Nejati said as he entered the university campus.
Several Taliban officials say the ban on women’s education is temporary but, despite promises, they have failed to reopen secondary schools for girls, which have been closed for more than a year.
They have wheeled out a litany of excuses for the closure, from a lack of funds to the time needed to remodel the syllabus along Islamic lines.
The reality, according to some Taliban officials, is that the religious scholars advising Afghanistan’s supreme leader Haibatullah Akhunzada are deeply sceptical of modern education for women, AFP said in its report.
Taliban authorities have effectively squeezed women out of public life since retaking power.
Women have been removed from many government jobs or are paid a fraction of their former salary to stay at home. They are also barred from going to parks, fairs, gyms and public baths, and must cover up in public.
Rights groups have condemned the restrictions, which the United Nations called “gender-based apartheid”.
Also on Monday, rights group Amnesty International appealed to the UN Human Rights Council to address the “relentless abuses” by Taliban, including severe restrictions on women and freedom of speech.
“The human rights situation in Afghanistan is deteriorating rapidly, and the Taliban’s relentless abuses continue every single day,” said Agnès Callamard, Amnesty’s secretary general.
“It is clear that the Taliban are not willing nor able to investigate actions by their members that grossly violate the human rights of Afghanistan’s population,” she added.
The international community has made the right to education for women a sticking point in negotiations over aid and recognition of the Taliban government.
No country has so far officially recognised the Taliban as Afghanistan’s legitimate rulers.