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'Heartbroken And Disillusioned': Taliban Bans Afghan Women From Many University Courses

Female Afghan students stand in line after arriving for Kabul University's entrance exams on October 13.

The Taliban allowed thousands of Afghan girls and women to take university entrance exams last week.

But the militant group has banned them from applying for many courses, including journalism, engineering, economics, and many social and natural sciences.

The move has limited the career prospects of many women and forced some to give up on their dreams.

It is the latest restriction on female education in Afghanistan since the Taliban seized power in August 2021. The militants have banned girls above the sixth grade from attending school. They have also imposed strict gender segregation in universities.

Some of the girls and women allowed to take the exams had graduated from school just before the Taliban takeover. Others who participated were in the final year of school when the militants banned secondary-school education for girls.

Fatima, a 20-year-old from the northern province of Parwan, had long dreamed of becoming a reporter. But when she was told that she could not study journalism, she left the exam. "I was heartbroken and disillusioned, so I walked away," Fatima, whose full name has not been disclosed to protect her identity, told RFE/RL's Radio Azadi.

Deprived Of Education, Afghan Women And Girls Study At Female-Only Kabul Library
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Some women have also complained that they are no longer allowed to apply for courses in universities outside their home province, further limiting their options.

Shamila, a high-school graduate from the northeastern province of Kunduz, wanted to study medicine. But since the course is not available in universities in Kunduz, she has been forced to ditch her dreams of becoming a doctor.

"I was saddened and shocked to discover that I could not choose the course that I wanted," she told Radio Azadi. "No one has been able to explain to us why we are deprived of studying our preferred subjects."

While women are restricted in what and where they can study, men are free to apply for any course or university.

Afghan women attend the inauguration of a women's library in Kabul in August.
Afghan women attend the inauguration of a women's library in Kabul in August.

Abdul Qadir Khamush, the head of the examinations division in the Taliban's Higher Education Ministry, told Radio Azadi that 150,000 students took the university entrance exams between October 13-15, with 35 percent of them women.

RFE/RL was unable to verify the figures provided by the Taliban. But teachers and students have said that in some provinces the number of women who took the exams this year dropped by as much as 90 percent compared to 2021.

Around 180,000 students took the exams last year, which were held just before the Taliban seized power in August. Some 30 percent of them were women.

The number of women taking the university entrance exams is expected to fall dramatically next year if the Taliban maintains its ban on education for teenage girls. This year, the militants offered an exemption for girls in the last year of school.

Khamush, the Taliban official, said they were not allowing women to apply for certain courses because they could not arrange separate classes for men and women in some universities. He told the BBC that some courses were closed to women because there was a lack of interest.

Few women have accepted that explanation.

Taliban fighters disperse Afghan women protesters in Kabul on August 13.
Taliban fighters disperse Afghan women protesters in Kabul on August 13.

An 11th-grader in Parwan, who did not want to reveal her name, fears that she will not even be allowed to take the university entrance exams. "My dreams will just remain dreams," she told Radio Azadi.

Since seizing power, the Taliban has imposed a raft of restrictions on women and girls, including on their appearance, access to work and education, and freedom of movement. The rules are reminiscent of the Taliban's first stint in power from 1996 to 2001, when the group deprived women of their most basic rights.

Women and girls have taken to the streets to protest the Taliban's restrictions on their lives. Last month, schoolgirls, women, and even Afghan elders demonstrated their support for girls' education in social media posts and street protests across the country, in a rare display of defiance under the Taliban.

More recently, a deadly suicide bombing on September 30 that killed dozens of girls and women in Kabul triggered some of the largest and most sustained protests against Taliban rule.

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