New Taliban chancellor bans women from Kabul University



Tightening the Taliban’s restrictions on women, the group’s new chancellor for Kabul University announced on Monday that women would be indefinitely banned from the institution, whether as teachers or students.

“I give you my words as chancellor of Kabul University”, Mohammad Ashraf Ghairat said in a Tweet Monday. “Until a true Islamic environment is offered to all, women will not be allowed to come to university or to work. Islam first.

The new university politics first echoed the power of the Taliban, in the 1990s, when women were only allowed in public if they were accompanied by a male relative and were beaten for disobeying, and were completely excluded. from school.

Some female staff, who have worked in relative freedom for the past two decades, opposed the new decree, questioning the idea that the Taliban would have a monopoly on defining the Islamic faith.

“In this holy place, there was nothing anti-Islamic,” said a speaker, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals, as did several others interviewed by the New York Times. . “Presidents, teachers, engineers and even mullahs are trained here and gifted for society,” she said. “Kabul University is home to the Afghan nation.”

In the days following the Taliban’s seizure of power in August, officials struggled to insist that this period would be better for women, who would be allowed to study, work and even participate in government. .

But none of this happened. Taliban leaders recently appointed an all-male cabinet. The new government has also banned women from returning to the workplace, citing safety concerns, although officials called it temporary. (The original Taliban movement also did this in its early days in the 1990s, but never followed suit.)

Two weeks ago, the Taliban replaced the president of Kabul University, the country’s first college, with Mr. Ghairat, a 34-year-old fan of the movement who called the country’s schools “centers of prostitution” .

This was yet another blow to an Afghan higher education system that had been supported for years by hundreds of millions of dollars in foreign aid, but which has faltered since the group’s return to power.

“There is no hope, the whole higher education system is collapsing,” said Hamid Obaidi, the former spokesperson for the Ministry of Higher Education who was also a lecturer at the School of journalism from Kabul University. “Everything was ruined. “

Tens of thousands of students from public universities are staying at home because their schools are closed. The American University in Afghanistan, in which the United States has invested more than $ 100 million, has been completely abandoned and taken over by the Taliban.

Professors and lecturers from across the country, many of whom were educated abroad, fled their posts in anticipation of tighter regulations from the Taliban. In their wake, the government appoints religious purists, many of whom have minimal academic experience, to head the institutions.

In a symbolic act of resistance, the teachers’ union in Afghanistan sent a letter to the government last week asking it to quash Mr. Ghairat’s appointment. The young chancellor has also been criticized on social media for his lack of academic experience. Hit by The Times, some of his classmates described him as an isolated student with extremist views who had problems with his classmates and teachers.

“I haven’t even started the job yet,” Ghairat said, dismissing concerns about his appointment in an interview with The Times. “How do they know if I’m qualified or not? Let time be the judge, ”he said, adding that his 15 years of work in cultural affairs for the Taliban made him a perfect candidate for the job.

Chief Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid tried to soften Mr. Ghairat’s announcement that women would not be able to return to Kabul University, telling The Times: “This could be his point of personal view. But he gave no assurance as to when the ban on women would be lifted, saying that until then the Taliban had been working to design a “safer transportation system and an environment where female students are protected.” .

While some women have resumed classes at private universities, public universities across the country remain closed. Even if they reopen, it looks like women will be forced to take separate classes, with only women as instructors. But with so few female teachers available – and many of them still publicly prohibited from working – many women will almost certainly have no classes to take.

During the country’s civil war in the early 1990s, most universities remained closed. When the Taliban took power in 1996, most of them ended the civil war, but did little to revive their higher education system. Women and girls were not allowed to go to school.

Following the 2001 American invasion, the United States invested more than $ 1 billion in expanding and strengthening Afghan colleges and universities. America’s allies, as well as international institutions like the World Bank, have also spent a lot. In 2021, there were more than 150 higher education institutions, which educated nearly half a million students, of which about a third were women.

Foreign aid to higher education came to an abrupt halt after the Taliban took power in August. Money from the United States and its NATO allies has ended, as has funding from the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. This effectively deprived thousands of civil servants and teachers of their salaries.

According to estimates from speakers who spoke to The Times, more than half of the country’s teachers have quit their jobs. Kabul University has lost a quarter of its faculty, one of the university’s board members said, adding that in some departments, such as Spanish and French, there are no longer teachers.

“Kabul University is facing a brain drain,” said Sami Mahdi, journalist and former professor at the School of Public Policy at Kabul University, who spoke by phone from Ankara, Turkey. . He left the country the day before Kabul fell to the Taliban, he said, but kept in touch with his students at home. “They are discouraged, especially the girls, because they know they will not be able to return,” he said.

The brain drain of intellectual capital is not limited to Kabul University. At Herat University in western Afghanistan, only six out of fifteen professors remain in the journalism faculty. Three who fled hope to enter the United States from other countries; and six of the absent professors were studying abroad before the Taliban returned to power and say they will not return. Similar concerns were also reported at Balkh University in northern Afghanistan. The Taliban have replaced the management of schools in all these institutions.

Hundreds of teachers and students are still trying to leave Afghanistan. Many contacted foreign organizations they were associated with in the past and pleaded for sponsorship so that they could be evacuated.

In Washington, a senior State Department official on Monday reported growing irritation with the Taliban over concerns that those considered to be at high risk of reprisal – including women who have partnered with US officials. or training programs – were not allowed to travel or leave freely. the country. The official said that included around 100 U.S. citizens and legal residents of the United States who indicated they wanted to leave and were waiting in Kabul for a departing flight.

The trauma faced by Afghan students was summed up in the experience of a 22-year-old Kabul University student who spoke to The Times last week.

In November 2020, while the capital was still in the hands of its pro-Western government, ISIS gunmen entered a classroom at Kabul University and opened fire, killing 22 of his classmates. After escaping through a window to save her life, she was shot in the hand as she ran away from the building.

She remained traumatized and in chronic pain, but continued to attend classes. In August, when Taliban soldiers entered Kabul, she was only months away from graduation. But now the Taliban decree seems to have made his dream impossible.

“All of the hard work I have done so far seems to be gone,” she said. “I find myself wishing I was dead in this attack with my classmates instead of living to see it. “

Wali Ariane and Lara jake contributed reports.


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