Afghan students express their devastation after being expelled from universities

Kabul, Afghanistan

The 21-year-old student had been studying hard for weeks as she prepared for the final exams of her first year of university. She was almost done, with only two exams left, when she heard the news: the Taliban government was suspend university education for all female students in Afghanistan.

“I didn’t stop and I kept studying for the test,” he told CNN on Wednesday. “I went to college in the morning anyway.”

But it was useless. He arrived to find armed Taliban guards at the gates of his campus in Kabul, the Afghan capital, turning away all female students who tried to enter.

“It was a terrible scene,” he said. “Most of the girls, including me, cried and asked them to let us in… If you lose all your rights and you can’t do anything about it, how would you feel?”

CNN is not naming the student for security reasons.

The Taliban’s decision on Tuesday was just the latest step in its brutal crackdown on Afghan women’s freedoms, after seizing control of the country in August 2021.

Although the insurgent group has repeatedly claimed that it would protect the rights of girls and women, it has actually done the opposite. stripping away hard-won liberties they have fought tirelessly for the past two decades.

Some of its most striking restrictions have been around education, with girls prohibited from returning to secondary schools in March. The move devastated many students and their families, who described to CNN their dashed dreams of becoming doctors, teachers or engineers.

For the Kabul student, the loss of her education was an even bigger shock than the bombing attacks and violence she had witnessed before.

“I always thought that we could overcome our sadness and fear by educating ourselves,” she said. “However, this (time) is different. It’s just unacceptable and unbelievable.”

Male students attend a class behind a curtain meant to separate men from women at a university in Kandahar province, Afghanistan, on December 21, 2022.

The news was met with widespread condemnation and dismay, with many world leaders, and leading Afghan figures, urging the Taliban to reverse their decision.

In a statement on Twitter, former Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, who fled Kabul when the Taliban seized power, called the group illegitimate rulers who are holding “the entire population hostage.”

“The current problem of women’s education and work in the country is very serious, sad and the most obvious and cruel example of gender apartheid in the 21st century,” Ghani wrote. “I have said it over and over again that if a girl becomes literate, she changes five future generations, and if a girl remains illiterate, she causes the destruction of five future generations.”

He praised those protesting in Afghanistan over the Taliban’s decision, calling them “pioneers.”

Another former Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, also expressed “deep regret” over the suspension. The “development, population and self-sufficiency of the country depend on the education and training of each child on this earth,” he wrote.

Other foreign officials and leaders issued similar statements, including British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, US State Department spokesman Ned Price, and US Ambassador to Afghanistan Karen Decker.

The foreign ministries of France, Germany, Pakistan, Qatar and Saudi Arabia also criticized the decision.

“Preventing half the population from contributing significantly to society and the economy will have a devastating impact on the entire country,” the UN mission in Afghanistan said in a statement.

“Education is a basic human right,” he added. “Excluding women and girls from secondary and tertiary education not only denies them this right, but denies Afghan society as a whole the benefit of the contributions that women and girls have to offer. It denies all of Afghanistan a future.

The students in Afghanistan say their future is now in limbo, with no clarity on what will become of their education.

“I still have hope that things will return to normal, but I don’t know how long it will take,” said the Kabul student. “Now a lot of girls, including me, are just thinking about what’s next, what can we do to get out of this situation.”

“I’m not going to resign,” he added, saying he would consider going “somewhere else” if Afghanistan continues to ban female students.

Another 21-year-old, Maryam, is intimately familiar with the dangers of pursuing an education as a woman. When she was a high school student, she was close to an attack on Kabul University several years ago, and she remembers being evacuated “with bullets flying over our heads.”

Then, in September, he barely survived a suicide attack on the kaaj educational center in Kabul, which killed at least 25 people, most of whom are believed to be young women. The attack sparked public outrage and horror, and dozens of women took to the streets of Kabul to protest.

Maryam, who is being identified by name for her safety, missed the blast by only a few seconds. When she ran back to her classroom, she was met with the scattered bodies of her friends.

Each brush with death cemented his resolve to not only pursue his own ambitions, but also the “dreams of all those best friends of mine who died before my eyes,” he said.

Although she was accepted into a degree program weeks after the September bombing, she decided to put her college plans on hold for a year, returning instead to rebuild the destroyed school from scratch. She wanted to encourage other girls to continue her education, she said.

Taliban security personnel stand guard at the entrance gate of a university in Jalalabad on December 21, 2022.

Now those dreams have been shattered with Tuesday’s announcement.

“I’m just lost. I don’t know what to do and what to say,” she told CNN. “Since last night, I have been imagining all my friends who lost their lives in the Kaaj attack. What was his sacrifice for?

“We need to receive education; we have given a lot of sacrifice for it. It is our only hope for a better future.”

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