Private Afghan universities at risk of closure after women’s ban

KABUL, Afghanistan — A quarter of private universities in Afghanistan are at risk of closing due to the Taliban government’s ban on female students, a spokesman for the ministry said Thursday.

Afghanistan’s rulers last week immediately banned women from attending university, in yet another blow to the rights and freedoms of women and girls since taking power in the country in August 2021. The move also sparked international condemnation and domestic outcry.

The Taliban government’s higher education minister, Naida Mohammad Nadeem, defended the ban, saying it was necessary to prevent gender mixing in universities because, according to him, some subjects violated Islamic and Afghan values.

Since taking over the country, the Taliban have broadly implemented their interpretation of Sharia law, or Sharia law, despite initially promising softer rules on the rights of women and minorities.

They barred girls from middle and high school, barred women from most fields of employment, and ordered them to wear head-to-toe clothing in public. Women are also banned from parks and gyms. Afghan society, while largely traditional, has increasingly embraced the education of girls and women over the past two decades under a U.S.-backed government.

Mohammad Karim Nasiri, spokesman for the private university union, said 35 institutions were at risk of closure due to the ban. Male students have also been joining female students in boycotting classes and exams, he added.

Afghanistan has 140 private universities in 24 provinces with a total student population of approximately 200,000. Of these, approximately 60,000-70,000 are women. These universities employ approximately 25,000 people.

“Closing universities (for women) is a mental and material blow,” Nasiri said. “We have the audacity to tell the authorities that with this decision, the country is going backwards and everyone is concerned.”

“It’s not a good situation and everyone is concerned about this decision – whether it’s teachers, students or administrators,” he added.

Nasiri said that because of all the financial damage, the owners of the private university told top Taliban official Maulvi Abdul Kabir and the union that they would have no choice but to close the school and keep it open if the decision was not reversed. Investments are transferred abroad.

He did not specify a timetable for the closure. Most universities are currently on winter break.

The Ministry of Higher Education had no immediate comment.

The university ban came days after the government ordered Afghan women to stop working in international and domestic NGOs, allegedly because women were not properly wearing the Islamic hijab or hijab. It’s another ban that has sparked a backlash.

On Wednesday, the United Nations said some of its “time-critical” projects were temporarily halted in Afghanistan because of a lack of female staff. The UN has stressed that its female staff are key to the country’s humanitarian response, reaching populations that men cannot and protecting the communities they serve.

“Banning women from humanitarian work has immediate and life-threatening consequences for all Afghans,” the UN warned in its statement.

“This comes at a time when more than 28 million people in Afghanistan, including millions of women and children, need assistance to survive as the country grapples with famine, recession, entrenched poverty and the risk of harsh winters,” the UN added.