Last week, I spoke to 21-year-old Zarmina Ahadi, who had just completed her fourth semester at Kabul University. With the Taliban’s relentless crackdown on women’s rights, Zarmina and her female classmates feared there wouldn’t be a fifth semester for them as rumors circulated of a looming ban on women in universities. Zarmina said, “I’m afraid it’s the time – they’re coming after us now.” She was right. On Tuesday, the Taliban announced a ban on women attending universities “until further notice,” a misleading use of language by the Taliban to dampen expected public and international outrage. But by now we know what that means.
Going to university has been a fragile ray of hope that Zarmina and many young Afghan women like her have been holding on to; a glimmer of hope that quickly disappeared.
Despite all the harassment, intimidation, restrictions, segregated classrooms, financial difficulties, and imposed dress codes, Zarmina and her classmates persisted. “We’ve worked hard to convince our families, wore full black hijabs, and compromised our freedom of choice just to keep university doors open for women,” she said. “We have accepted the harsh circumstances, and tried to work with what we have, but it’s not on us anymore – it’s the Taliban who must learn to behave.” However, the Taliban don’t seem very interested in change.
The Taliban’s attitude toward women and girls’ education has now kept teenage girls out of school for 457 days. While the new ban is a shamelessly misogynistic addition, the education cycle was already broken when the Taliban banned teenage girls from secondary school. This ensured there would be no high school graduates in the coming years and therefore no universities for women. Such harm runs deep and is hard to undo.
The Taliban need to immediately reverse their ban on women in universities and reopen secondary schools for Afghan girls. Afghanistan’s donor countries and the international community should speak assertively to the Taliban about the lasting harm such decisions have not only for women and girls, but for all Afghans. Zarmina and others should not have to wait “until further notice.”