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The Taliban government bans all Afghan women from attending universities

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

On Tuesday evening, Afghanistan's Taliban made a dreaded announcement.

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

They have banned women from receiving higher education with immediate effect. With that, the highest grade of schooling most Afghan girls can now reach is grade six, the final year of primary school.

FADEL: To talk about this, we have NPR's Diaa Hadid on the line. She covers Afghanistan from her base in neighboring Pakistan. Hi, Diaa.

DIAA HADID, BYLINE: Good morning, Leila.

FADEL: So give us some context here. What has schooling for women looked like under the Taliban up until now?

HADID: Right. It's actually been a hodgepodge since the Taliban seized power over a year ago. Girls can go to primary school up to grade six. But they've largely been prevented from continuing on to high school. Informally, though, some girls in distant provinces are still going. And others were going to these private tuition centers that were giving them an informal high school education. And this is key. Girls could still attend some universities under very strict conditions.

FADEL: And now all that changed yesterday.

HADID: All that changed yesterday with an edict that was issued by the ministry of higher education, which said it was suspending all women from private and public higher education. This morning, security forces fanned out to some universities. And they ordered female students home at gunpoint.

FADEL: Wow.

HADID: And then we heard something else, that they also went to some of these private tuition centers where girls get an informal education. And they ordered those girls home. And so what looks like is happening is that these avenues for girls to get an education beyond grade six are shutting down.

FADEL: And how are women and girls reacting to all this?

HADID: They're devastated...

FADEL: Yeah.

HADID: ...Including their educators, like Zainab Mohammadi (ph). She runs a free-of-charge tuition center. She's educating more than a thousand girls. Have a listen to her.

ZAINAB MOHAMMADI: Last night, I didn't get to sleep at all. All the girls, they called me. And I promised them I would be there for them.

HADID: The line's crackly. But she's saying she promises to stand by her students. And she's waiting for the Taliban to decide if she can keep her center open. Her students fully cover, including their faces. And they follow strict segregation rules. You know, and other female university students told me they were distraught, even too angry to cry. The timing, Leila, was cruel. Many of them were about to do their final exams, like Spogmai (ph). And listen to her voice message that she sent.

SPOGMAI: I was getting preparation for tomorrow's exam when my friend told me about the closure of university. I'm feeling sad and wondering, will I be allowed to study again and go to university or not?

FADEL: I mean, this is all really hard to hear. In the few seconds we have left - I mean, the Taliban had promised this more open approach, a respect for fundamental human rights. And yet, here we are. Can you tell us why?

HADID: It's because the supreme leader of the Taliban, Hibatullah Akhundzada, is an ultraconservative. And he has the final say. Doesn't really matter if everyone beneath him is a moderate, he ultimately decides the shape and form of how Afghanistan is governed.

FADEL: NPR's Diaa Hadid, thank you so much.

HADID: Thank you, Leila.

(SOUNDBITE OF SHOW ME A DINOSAUR'S "RED RIVER") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Leila Fadel is a national correspondent for NPR based in Los Angeles, covering issues of culture, diversity, and race.
Diaa Hadid chiefly covers Pakistan and Afghanistan for NPR News. She is based in NPR's bureau in Islamabad. There, Hadid and her team were awarded a Murrow in 2019 for hard news for their story on why abortion rates in Pakistan are among the highest in the world.