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The Azadi Briefing: Taliban's University Ban Signals Return To Past Repression Of Women

Afghan women demonstrate against the closure of universities to women by the Taliban in Kabul on December 22.
Afghan women demonstrate against the closure of universities to women by the Taliban in Kabul on December 22.

​Welcome to The Azadi Briefing, a new RFE/RL newsletter that unpacks the key issues in Afghanistan. To subscribe, click here.

I'm Mustafa Sarwar, a senior news editor at RFE/RL's Radio Azadi. Here's what I've been tracking and what I'm keeping an eye on in the days ahead.

The Key Issue

The Taliban banned women from attending universities in Afghanistan on December 20. In a statement, the Taliban's Higher Education Ministry said the decision was effective immediately, and ordered educational institutions to inform the ministry of their compliance. The ministry did not give any reasons for its decision.

The move was quickly condemned by countries and rights groups around the world. In Afghanistan, female university students wept and consoled each other after hearing the news. Students in Nangahar University in eastern Afghanistan staged a protest on December 21 and male students walked out of their exams in solidarity with their female classmates. On December 22, around 50 women staged a rally in Kabul that was violently broken up by Taliban fighters.

Why It's Important: The Taliban's university ban is the latest restriction against women in Afghanistan. Since the Taliban seized power last year, the militant group has severely curtailed female education and women's right to work. The militants have also imposed restrictions on women's appearances and freedom of movement.

The university ban is a major blow to women. But it was also expected. Nida Mohammad Nadim, a hard-line cleric who was appointed as the Taliban's minister for higher education in October, has said that female education is "un-Islamic and against Afghan values."

The Taliban's latest ban has also provided further evidence that the group is bent on reestablishing its brutal regime from the 1990s, when women were barred from working outside their homes and girls were banned from attending school.

What's Next: When it seized power, the Taliban pledged to uphold women's rights. The militant group projected a more moderate image to convince the world that it had changed. But the Taliban has failed to meet its promises and reimposed many of its repressive policies of the past. Observers have said the militants are likely to further restrict the rights of women.

The Week's Best

In interviews with Radio Azadi, female students described a feeling of despair and helplessness following the Taliban's ban on women attending university. Najiba, a second-year law student at Bamiyan University, said she felt like a "bird with no wings who wants to fly." Tamana Azizi, a medical student in Kunduz Province, said her dreams of serving her people as a doctor had been crushed. Farhat Rahmani, a journalism student, said she felt "destroyed."

The families of the eight people killed in a deadly Taliban raid last month have called for an international investigation. The incident occurred in Daikundi, a province in central Afghanistan that is home to the country's Shi'ite Hazara minority. The Taliban claimed that it had targeted and killed "armed rebels" in a village on November 25. But the survivors and the families of the victims told Radio Azadi that those killed were all civilians, including four children.

What To Keep An Eye On

The Taliban has changed the name of Charikar, the provincial capital of the northern province of Parwan, to Imam Azam. The new Arabic name refers to Imam Abu Hanifa, an eighth-century jurist who founded the Hanafi school of Islam, the Sunni denomination followed by the Taliban.

A local Taliban official told Radio Azadi on December 15 that the group had consulted local leaders and cultural figures. But information obtained by Radio Azadi suggested that the order for the name change had come from Taliban Supreme Leader Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada.

Why It's Important: Changing the name of Charikar, an ancient city with Buddhist roots, appears to be part of the Taliban's Islamization drive.

The move triggered widespread online condemnation, with Afghans accusing the Taliban of trying to eliminate indigenous cultural identities. The Taliban has previously changed the names of units in the Afghan military, replacing Persian and Pashto names with Arabic ones.

That's all from me for now. Don't forget to send me any questions, comments, or tips that you have.

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Until next time,

Mustafa Sarwar

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    Mustafa Sarwar

    Mustafa Sarwar is a senior news editor for RFE/RL's Radio Azadi, one of the most popular and trusted media outlets in Afghanistan. Nearly half of the country's adult audience accesses Azadi's reporting on a weekly basis.

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Azadi Briefing

Radio Azadi is RFE/RL's Dari- and Pashto-language public service news outlet for Afghanistan. Every Friday, in our newsletter, Azadi Briefing, one of our journalists will share their analysis of the week’s most important issues and explain why they matter.

To subscribe, click here.