The Gender Security Project
Excluded Afghan Girls Forced to Seek Education in Pakistan
By Ashfaq Yusufzai
Afghan girls attend a private school in Pakistan rather than lose out on their education. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS
Hundreds of young women and girls are moving to Pakistan to continue their studies after the Taliban’s restrictions on women’s education in Afghanistan.
This week Afghan students called upon the Taliban leadership to allow women into universities and pave way for the development of the war-ravaged country.
On March 6, 2023, universities in Afghanistan re-opened after winter vacation but only for male students.
“We want the Taliban’s government to respect women as Islam gives equal rights to women. Therefore, allowing female education is just in line with Islam,” Naureena Bibi (17) arrived in Pakistan in June last year and is studying at a college in Peshawar.
Another student recalls how she and her siblings were sent to Pakistan to continue their education.
“With the seizure of powers in Afghanistan by Taliban, women feel harassed. My parents are extremely concerned about us because the soldiers cause trouble for the female students when they go to schools,” Shaheen Bibi (17) told IPS.
A Grade 12 student, she said, believes that Taliban leaders’ actions are misguided, and this is why parents were leaving Afghanistan to let their female children be educated.
“If the situation remains the same and the Taliban doesn’t review their decision regarding banning women from universities, there will be no female doctors and nurses to treat women patients,” she said.
According to her, many of her relatives have arrived in Peshawar and been admitted to schools and colleges.
“My father has a cement shop in the Afghan capital Kabul, and he still lives there, but I, along with my brother and two sisters, have come here and rented a house just for our education,” she said. “My younger sister is also pursuing studies in computer science in a private college in Peshawar.”
Peshawar, located close to the Afghan border, is the ultimate destination for girls to quench their thirst for education.
After the Taliban seized power in August 2021, they banned most women and girls from attending high schools, colleges, and universities in Afghanistan, sparking international condemnation and despair among young people in the country.
To condemn the decision, women have staged protests in the capital Kabul since the imposition of the ban.
“We have been holding agitations to force Taliban to rescind the ban and allow women education but to no avail. Taliban are very strict towards women,” Naseema Bibi, an Afghanistan Women’s Unity, and Solidarity activist, told IPS.
Bibi said that restrictions aimed to send women to the stone age and that the United Nations must do some soul-searching to save the future of thousands of women who were now sitting idle in their homes.
“We appeal to the Taliban and the international community to come to the rescue of women and permit their education. Less than five percent can afford admission to Pakistani institutions,” she said.
Taliban have also banned women from pursuing university degrees in Islamic studies.
In all Islamic countries, women become medical doctors, lawyers, and scientists and take up other advanced studies, but the Taliban claiming to be championing the cause of Islam, are prohibiting them from education, she said.
Pakistan had, even before the Taliban took over, been providing education to Afghan nationals.
“We have allocated 15 seats in medical colleges for Afghan students in medical colleges in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, one of Pakistan’s four provinces close to the Afghan border,” said Dr Muhammad Rafiq at the Ministry of Health, Islamabad. He said there are over 5000 seats throughout Pakistan where students are enrolled on the Afghan government’s recommendation.
Now after the Taliban’s ban, parents are moving their daughters to get education in private educational institutions in Pakistan, he said.
No country in the world can make progress when women half of the population is held back, he said.
Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari said he was disappointed by the Taliban’s decision and wanted the Taliban to revoke the ban and allow women to get an education.
He hoped the Afghan government would review its decision and facilitate women’s education.
Pakistan will help the Afghan women in their education, he said.
“We have been hosting over three million Afghan refugees,” he said.
Gul Yasmin (19), an Afghan medical student in Peshawar, is perturbed over the Taliban’s order to prohibit women’s education in her country.
“It is highly ridiculous that the Taliban’s leader Hibatullah Akhundzada has been arguing that his inner circle has been against modern education of girls. Our country requires female doctors, nurses, and teachers to make progress,” she said.
“Without women’s education, we cannot move forward, and the Taliban must revisit their instructions on female education,” she said. “Afghanistan has been facing massive brain drain, and our doctors, engineers, and educated lots are migrating to Pakistan and other countries due to the situation created after Taliban’s rule.”
Afghanistan’s Minister of Higher Education, Neda Mohammad Nadim, told IPS they hadn’t taken a final decision on the education of women and girls.
“We will allow girls’ education based in accordance with Sharia law. It’s a temporary problem but will be resolved soon,” he said. Taliban held women in high esteem because Islam gives respect to women, the minister said.
Taliban have often been slammed in the past for their attitude to women, Javid Khan, a teacher of international relations at the University of Peshawar, told IPS.
“They (Taliban) didn’t allow girls education during their rule in the 1990s. The new ban isn’t surprising,” he said.
According to UNESCO, women’s attendance in higher education increased 20 times between 2001 and 2018, he said. It means that only the Taliban was the hurdle in women’s education, Khan said.
Sultana Gul, a female Afghan teacher, who arrived in Peshawar in December last year and teaches at a private school, told IPS that she couldn’t serve back home because of the harassment of the Taliban’s soldiers.
“Going and coming back from school has become a daunting task for female teachers and students. Therefore, I came here and am teaching at an Afghan school,” Gul (31), who previously worked in a girls’ school in Kabul.
She said that most girls want to come to Peshawar, but their parents won’t allow them. In some areas, the Taliban allow women in high schools, but generally, they are stricter, and people are afraid, Gul said.
She said there is a glimmer of hope for Afghan girls in Peshawar, but only a few can benefit.
This post first appeared on IPS News.