HomeNewsFemale students remain barred from Afghan universities

    Female students remain barred from Afghan universities

    Young men arriving at Parwam University in Charikar, Afghanistan, on the return to classes on March 6, 2023.

    The return to classes at Afghan universities on Monday, March 6, after the winter break, was no ordinary start to the academic year. It was supposed to give some hint of the intentions of the Taliban government, in the grip of its first regime crisis since it returned to power in August 2021. Whether or not female students would be present, after being banned from campus on December 21, 2022, would determine the outcome of an intense power struggle between the two factions currently holding power in Afghanistan.

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    On the one hand, there is the ultra-conservative group led by the leader of the Taliban movement, Emir Haibatullah Akhundzada, who advocates taking a hard line with foreigners and excluding women from the public sphere. He has no time for girls over the age of 12 receiving a modern education. On the other hand, there are the two heavyweights of the regime, Interior Minister Sirajuddin Haqqani, the leader of a powerful group, and Defense Minister Mullah Yaqoub, who both support a more consensual vision of life in Afghanistan and its relations with the outside world .

    On Monday, only male students showed up at the entrance to universities, thereby clearly indicating which faction now holds the upper hand in the country’s destiny. In recent weeks, however, nothing seemed certain. The handful of international organizations still present in Kabul, the United Nations and the European Union, were still hoping for a compromise, in the belief that international aid depended on it, and with this aid the regime would be able to turn around a highly troubled economic, financial and social situation. This was not to be. The Afghan theocracy could not care less about the countless international condemnations, including from Muslim countries, over the country’s human rights abuses.

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    Debate settled in Kandahar

    And yet, public and private universities had already adopted new rules after the Taliban returned to power, designed to separate men and women during class time. Women were only allowed to attend classes taught by professors of the same sex or by older men. In recent months, senior Taliban leaders have repeatedly stated that the ban on girls over the age of 12 receiving education was only temporary. These claims were obviously misleading and again the regime’s deputy spokesman, Bilal Karimi, stated on March 5 that the education system must first and foremost comply with Islamic law.

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    The debate appeared to have been settled on March 3 at a meeting called by the Taliban leader Akhundzada in Kandahar, a safe haven he has not left since he returned to Afghanistan in August 2021. That meeting was attended by those opposing his wishes, primarily the interior and defense ministers, together with their colleagues Mullah Amir Khan Muttaqi, the minister of foreign affairs, and Zabihullah Mujahid, the deputy information minister. The meeting was also attended by senior clerics who are loyal supporters of the Taliban emir and who are trying to impose Haibatullah Akhundzada’s will on the country. “The participants discussed the different activities of the government as well as budgetary issues,” said Mujahid, who also serves as the regime’s spokesman.

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