Taliban education policies risk de facto banning college for Afghan women, officials say

LONDON: Taliban policies on women’s secondary education will become a de facto ban on women earning degrees, a Taliban spokesperson and university officials have told The Guardian.

After almost a year out of school, the girls will not have the documents required to enroll in higher education and the academic capacity to begin university studies.

“Automatically, if we don’t have high school graduates, we won’t have any new female university students,” said Maulawi Ahmed Taqi, spokesman for the Taliban Ministry of Higher Education.

“But I hope the Ministry of Education will come up with a policy and reopen the schools soon. Because we have realized that it is important and the ban on girls’ education is temporary.

Even if the practical obstacles to women’s access to higher education are removed, the authorities plan to limit them to degrees in the fields of health and education, according to a source close to the Taliban leaders who is interviewed with The Guardian.

Afghan students without a high school diploma cannot take the national “kankor” university entrance exam required to enroll, even in private colleges.

Last year, the Taliban “graduated” high school students, making them eligible for the exam if the new leadership held one.

But it is unclear whether the Taliban will issue “high school leaving certificates” to girls who should have obtained them. Under Afghan law, they cannot take the entrance exam without having one.

Even if women are allowed to participate, university admissions officials worry about the delay they will fall after being excluded from school for nearly a year.

They are already at a disadvantage among future university students, in competition with men who have completed their studies.

Although extra classes can help make up for a few missed months, girls who have not completed grade 11 cannot be expected to gain access to university classes, according to Dr. Azizullah Amir, president and founder of the All-Female Moraa University.

He established the university to educate female doctors after his mother died of septic shock when she refused to see a male doctor about an infection.

All of its students and staff are women, helping to attract students from more conservative areas. However, according to Amir, the institution might not be able to admit new students.

“Even now we have time, if they restart classes, in the remaining months of the year we can graduate the students, with more effort and support, including intensive classes, but if it continues , then next year you won’t have any students in the university, other than those who graduated in previous years, which will be in small numbers,” Amir said.

Online courses and illegal underground schools have enabled some girls to continue their education, but these efforts reach only a small percentage of the population.

Most secret schools are private initiatives, charging fees to at least cover their costs. But few families can afford it.

Streaming or downloading lessons requires at least a smartphone and a big data package, which is out of reach for many girls.

The new Afghan leaders have said they support women’s education as long as it respects their interpretation of Islamic rules.

This includes almost complete gender separation, although male professors still teach some female classes due to a shortage of specialists.

Taqi cited the ministry’s efforts to change schedules and reallocate buildings so women can attend single-sex classes as evidence.

Some universities now teach men and women alternately.

“Our ministry is committed. We have plans, policies, procedures and, as you see, education at the university continues for both girls and boys,” he said.

Helen D. Jessen