Afghan private universities face closure after women’s ban

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — A quarter of Afghanistan’s private universities face closure due to the Taliban government’s ban on female students, an industry spokesman said Thursday.

Last week, Afghan leaders banned women from attending universities with immediate effect, dealing another blow to the rights and freedoms of women and girls since they took power in the country in August 2021. also sparked international condemnation and outcry at home.

A Taliban government higher education minister, Nida Mohammad Nadim, defended the ban, saying it was necessary to prevent gender mixing at universities and because he said some subjects violate Islamic values ​​and Afghans.

Although initially promised a more moderate rule respecting the rights of women and minorities, the Taliban have largely implemented their interpretation of Islamic law, or sharia, since taking control of the country.

They banned girls from middle school and high school, barred women from most fields of employment, and ordered them to wear head-to-toe clothing in public. Women are also banned from parks and gymnasiums. Afghan society, while largely traditional, has increasingly embraced the education of girls and women over the past two decades under a US-backed government.

A spokesman for the private universities union, Mohammad Karim Nasiri, said 35 institutions were at risk of closing due to the ban. Male students have also boycotted classes and exams in solidarity with their female counterparts, he added.

Afghanistan has 140 private universities in 24 provinces with a total of around 200,000 students. Of these, approximately 60,000 to 70,000 are women. Universities employ about 25,000 people.

“Closing universities (to women) is both a spiritual and a material blow,” Nasiri said. “We boldly told the authorities that with this decision, the nation is stepping back and everyone is worried.”

“It’s not a good situation, everyone is worried about this decision, be it teachers, students or administrative staff,” he added.

Because of all the financial losses, private university owners have told a senior Taliban official, Maulvi Abdul Kabir, and the union that they will have no choice but to close schools and move their investments to abroad if the decision is not overturned, Nasiri said.

He did not indicate a timetable for the closures. Most universities are currently on winter vacation.

The Ministry of Higher Education was not immediately available for comment.

The university ban was followed days later by a government order asking Afghan women to stop working in international and domestic non-governmental groups, allegedly because the women did not wear the Islamic headscarf properly, or hijab. It was another ban that sparked a fierce reaction.

On Wednesday, the UN said some of its “urgent” programs have temporarily halted in Afghanistan due to a lack of female staff. The UN has stressed that its female staff are essential to the humanitarian response in the country, accessing a population inaccessible to men and protecting the communities served.

“Banning women from humanitarian work has immediate deadly consequences for all Afghans,” the UN warned in its statement.

“This comes at a time when more than 28 million people in Afghanistan, including millions of women and children, need help to survive as the country grapples with the risk of famine, economic decline, entrenched poverty and a brutal winter,” the UN said. added.

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