Women in Afghanistan have suffered yet another setback, this time on the campus of Kabul University. In a fatwa issued by the Chancellor, Mohammad Ashraf Ghairat, the Taliban’s restrictions ~ not necessarily in force in other theocratic countries ~ have been tightened. Indeed, the search of learning has been considerably hampered with women indefinitely barred from the apex centre of education, either as instructors or as students. Both women teachers and the taught will thus be deprived.
The exclusion is, therefore, remarkable and a far cry from the purportedly moderate and inclusive governance that the Taliban regime had promised on August 15, when the hardliners had assumed power. The university’s Chancellor has been emphatic with Monday’s assertion, i.e. that “As long as a real Islamic environment is not provided for all, women will not be allowed to come to universities or work. Islam first.” The two words in conclusion must be the punchline of the stern imprimatur. Some women, who had worked in relative freedom for the past two decades, have now questioned the Taliban’s assumption that it had a monopoly on defining the Islamic faith. “Kabul University is the home to the nation of Afghanistan,” they said. “In this holy place, there was nothing un-Islamic.”
More accurately, the hastily crafted new education policy is a distinct echo of the Taliban praxis in the 1990s when women were not allowed in public if unaccompanied by a male relative, entirely excluded from schools, and be beaten for disobedience. The new policy on learning flies in the face of the declaration in August when the Taliban had insisted that “this time would be better for women who would be allowed to study, work and even participate in government”. The pledge was refreshingly reassuring on the face of it; indubitable must be the reality that the clock has been turned back within a span of 45 days, suggesting that the regime is both regressive and double-faced.
For the past fortnight, Kabul University has been helmed by Ghairat, a 34-year-old devotee of the Taliban movement who had once referred to the country’s schools as “centres for prostitution”. Education in the wider canvas stands to suffer with the profoundly fundamentalist takeover. The pump-priming of millions of dollars in foreign aid has scarcely benefited the search of learning. Education has been reeling ever since the Taliban’s return to power. For instance, the American University in Afghanistan, in which the United States had invested $100 million, has been abandoned and taken over by the Taliban. As succinctly summed up by Hamid Obaidi, the former spokesman of the ministry of higher education ~ “There is no hope. The entire higher education system is collapsing. Everything has been ruined.” The government of hardliners is said to be appointing “religious purists”, many of whom have minimal academic experience. In Afghanistan, fundamentalism acts to the detriment of learning.