Female instructors, students fear Taliban will never let them go back to universities

·3-min read
Representative Image
Representative Image

Kabul [Afghanistan], October 1 (ANI): As the Taliban restrict the entry of women at Kabul University, female instructors and students at Afghanistan's public universities increasingly fear that they will never be able get back to their classes.

Cora Engelbrecht and Sharif Hassan, writing in The New York Times said that setbacks at public universities have posed another major blow to women's rights under Taliban rule, and to a two-decade effort to build up higher education.

Afghan professors too are quitting or trying to leave the country in droves. According to estimates by lecturers who spoke with The Times, more than half of the country's professors have either left their jobs or say they will.

Kabul University, the country's premier public college, has been particularly hard-hit, losing a quarter of its faculty in recent days, one of the university's board members said, reported Engelbrecht and Hassan.

A former member of the faculty described a deeply fearful environment. "Kabul University is facing a brain drain," said Sami Mahdi, a journalist and former lecturer at the university's School of Public Policy, who spoke over the phone from Ankara, Turkey.

He flew out of the country the day before Kabul fell to the Taliban, he said, but has kept in touch with his students back home. "They are disheartened -- especially the girls because they know that they won't be able to go back."

The Taliban's return to power in August immediately sent chills through the country's higher education system, which over the past two decades had emphasized the improved educational opportunity for women and had been buoyed by hundreds of millions of dollars in foreign aid, reported The New York Times.

Taliban leaders recently named an all-male cabinet. The new government has also prohibited most women from returning to the workplace, citing security concerns.

Two weeks ago, the Taliban began replacing the leadership at Afghanistan's major universities. Their choice at Kabul University, the country's premier public college, raised particular outrage.

The new chancellor was Mohammad Ashraf Ghairat, a 34-year-old devotee of the movement who was widely criticized in academic circles and on social media as being unqualified and holding troubling views on women's rights, said Engelbrecht and Hassan.

In a symbolic act of resistance, the teachers union of Afghanistan sent a letter last week to the government demanding that it rescind Ghairat's appointment, reported The New York Times.

That outrage intensified on Monday, when a post on a Twitter account saying it was Ghairat's official outlet said that women would not be allowed to return to Kabul University until a "real Islamic environment" could be established. (The Times was unable to verify that the account was run by the chancellor or a representative from his office.)

That statement echoed earlier ones by the Taliban leadership that women would eventually be allowed back to classes only after a secure and Islamic environment had been established, including segregated classes.

Some female staff members, who have worked in relative freedom over the past two decades, have pushed back, questioning the idea that the Taliban had a monopoly on defining the Islamic faith and fearing that the group's real intent was to perpetually keep women away from education, as it did in the 90s.

"In this holy place, there was nothing un-Islamic," one female lecturer said, speaking on condition of anonymity out of fear of reprisal, as did several others interviewed by The New York Times. "Presidents, teachers, engineers and even mullahs are trained here and gifted to society," she said. "Kabul University is the home to the nation of Afghanistan."

Meanwhile, the Taliban's chief spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid, described the Twitter post as perhaps being Ghairat's "own personal view."

But he did not give any assurances that women would be able to attend work or classes at universities, saying that the Taliban were still working to devise a "safer transportation system and an environment where female students are protected." (ANI)

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