Female university aspirants blocked from some subjects

As Afghanistan’s Taliban authorities concluded their first nationwide university entrance tests on Friday 21 October, the female aspirants have been told they can join selected faculties only amid widening curbs on their freedom.

Without sharing much detail, the Taliban-run Ministry of Higher Education has said that at least 140,000 boys and girls took part in the university entrance test Kankor this month, which involved two phases of written tests in open-air university premises in all 33 provinces of the war-ravaged country.

The remaining 34th and biggest province, Kabul, housing the capital city by the same name, saw some tests conducted on Friday 15 October, while the suburban districts are due to complete the tests by 22 October.

The capital city saw at least 29,000 boys and girls try their luck for higher education in the country faced with a humanitarian crisis and economic disaster in the wake of the United States withdrawal and the Taliban takeover.

Females banned from some subjects

Application forms from various provinces seen by University World News meant female applicants in some areas were not allowed to choose certain technical and social sciences subjects for higher education. These included agriculture, construction engineering, mining, commerce, veterinary science and journalism.

Abdul Qadir Khamosh, the head of the entrance examination, told the Pashto service of the BBC that girls could choose their favourite faculties in all other fields except the “three or four” now being put off limits.

“In order not to face problems in creating classes in the future, and to provide them with separate classes, the Ministry of Higher Education decided not to introduce them to some departments,” he said.

In the previous Kankor held in 2020 before the Taliban grabbed power, official figures suggest the total number of applicants was 197,928, including about 80,000 girls. Of those candidates, a total of 68,930 were successful in obtaining seats in public universities and 11,435 were referred to semi-higher education institutions.

This year under the Taliban and after a gap of a year, according to the statistics reported by the local media, the number of participants has decreased significantly.

With the Taliban authorities downplaying it, female students in the country, particularly in the capital city Kabul, have been condemning the mounting restrictions and curbs.

A number of female Kabul University students took to the streets on Tuesday against such measures and their alleged expulsion from the hostel.

Grave concerns about women’s rights

Taking note of this, Amnesty International has raised grave concerns over the Taliban`s increasing violations of women’s human rights and restrictions on their fundamental freedoms in Afghanistan.

“Women must be allowed to freely access education. The Taliban have been harshly restricting women’s and girls’ rights since they took over the country in August 2021 and banned girls beyond grade six from attending school,” it said in a statement.

Female Afghan education activist Zainab Azizi said the restrictions on girls in terms of choosing subjects of their choice demonstrated yet again that the Taliban are not committed to women’s and girls’ rights.

Gender-based segregation has been the hallmark of the Taliban’s policies since grabbing power in August 2021.

“First, separating girls and boys in an already culturally male-dominated and purely Islamic society doesn’t make any sense. Second, this was an obvious fact in the past years that we had fewer female professors at universities across the country,” said Zainab, adding that the Taliban clearly has no will to be part of the solution in resolving girls’ education in Afghanistan.

A Kankor applicant in northern Kunduz province, Zara Ahmadi, told University World News that she wanted to study English language literature at the university but was not given the chance by the Taliban-run Ministry of Higher Education.

“For many years before the Taliban came, I studied so hard in private learning centres to improve my English and eventually earn a masters degree in it, but all of my time and efforts were in vain,” she sighed.

Despite all the sadness and gloom around women’s rights, the participation in Kankor of the female students of Kabul’s Kaj private education centre stood out as a ray of hope and resilience for the Afghan girls.

This academic centre in the capital city was stormed by terrorists last month killing at least 22 and injuring more than 100 students, mostly young girls of the ethnic Hazara community.

The centre, one of many in the major Afghan cities, used to train high school graduates for the exam.

Mukhtar Mudabir, manager of this institute, had lost his own sister in this grave attack before posting this strong and brave message for his students on social media on the eve of Kankor tests in Kabul: “Tomorrow, my dear [students], take part in the Kankor exam with all of your strength and respond with the might of your pen.”