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The Taliban continue eroding the rights and visibility of Afghan women and girls

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

In Afghanistan, women educators are being told to go home until further notice. NPR has learned that female teachers at four schools in Kabul were told today to leave work. And this is raising concern that even Afghan girls in elementary school could be denied their education when school resumes after the winter break. This comes on the heels of the Taliban's ban on women attending university. I spoke to Naheed Farid. She's an advocate for women's rights, and she served in Afghanistan's Parliament under the previous government. She says she was shocked by the decision to end higher education for women.

NAHEED FARID: I would say this is a suffocating crackdown on women. I would say this is hard to tolerate as a woman, Leila, because I've been there. I studied in Afghanistan before 1996. I was in the school. And the Taliban took over in 1996. And I was feeling like I'm suffocating. I was feeling like I'm hopeless, I'm helpless, and I have no hope and no reason to continue my life.

FADEL: How old were you in 1996? What grade were you in?

FARID: I was a teenager in middle school in seventh grade.

FADEL: Seventh grade. So do you feel like you're right back in 1996?

FARID: It is reversing of Afghanistan to a stone age, not just 1996. I think this is really a decision that is pushing Afghan people towards backwardness, pushing Afghan people and Afghan women towards living in a underdeveloped society so they cannot think and they cannot fight back.

FADEL: You said that you had hoped the international community would influence the Taliban's decision. We heard condemnation. The U.S. said this would, quote, "come with consequences" for the Taliban. Do you feel like the international community has and is doing enough?

FARID: You know, Leila, reflecting back 16 months of the Taliban rule in Afghanistan, the national committee was very good at putting up statements and resolutions of solidarity with Afghan women. But unfortunately, for the most part, they were only gestures that are symbolic, not something that could change the situation on the ground for Afghan women. So far, when we were questioning policymakers from United States that while you were engaging with the Taliban, they had this reason that we want to influence Taliban. We want to start the conversation with them. But we see that this engagement did not take us anywhere positive. And this consequence is not just for the people of Afghanistan. It's for the whole region and whole world because Taliban want a nation that is radicalized, a nation that is ready to join the terrorist groups. And that will happen. As you see, there are paving the environment for that.

FADEL: Now, you're a fierce advocate for women's rights. You were an MP in Afghanistan. You were a founder of a university in Kabul that gave discounted tuition to women so they would access education. What does it mean for a society when half of the population is shut out of public life, doesn't have access to education?

FARID: I call this situation gender apartheid that forces women to subordinate level of the society. I call this situation a crackdown that wants to control the minds and bodies of women in a male-dominated society that we have in Afghanistan. I hear stories about women are selling their kidneys so their children do not go hungry while their husbands are selling their daughters for marriage. This is the level of sacrifice. This is the level of resistance, the level of braveness that Afghan women are showing to the world. And I think we should recognize and support them at this time.

FADEL: Have you spoken to women who were enrolled in universities? I mean, some had just taken their entrance exams a few months ago. What are they saying?

FARID: This is a grievance, the sorrow, the sadness, the anger, the hopelessness, the mixture of everything and also the planning for pushing back - I saw all of them in women that I am in touch with. Because these women, they wanted to be politicians, wanted to be public affairs representatives and public figures, things like that. It is quite hard for our university to continue like this, but we are trying to find out ways to resume classes in an online system.

FADEL: Naheed Farid, thank you so much for your time.

FARID: Thank you so much for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.