Ban on female students attending university met with protests
The Taliban reacted by sending military vehicles to various larger cities to deter protests and, in some cases, used water cannons, gunfire into air and physical violence against protesters.
27 Dec 2022
On December 20, the Taliban’s Higher Education Ministry spokesperson, Hafiz Ziaullah Hashemi, tweeted an image of a letter signed by the acting Education Minister, Sheikh Neda Mohammad Nadim, instructing all public and private universities and educational institutions to suspend access to female students immediately.
The letter ordered institutions to implement resolution 28 of the cabinet of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan and stated that “women’s education is suspended until further notice”. Hashemi’s tweet contained just two words, “Important Notice!!” This measure came almost nine months after the Taliban announced that girls were prohibited from pursuing secondary education. As of December 21, 2022, considering the recent university ban, female students in Afghanistan are only allowed to study until sixth grade.
On December 21, a day after the Taliban announced the ban, protests against the new measure took place in multiple locations across the country. AW investigators were able to visually confirm protests in the provinces of Kabul, Nangarhar, and Ghazni. Whilst in Ghazni and Kabul most protesters were women who gathered outside the university gates, in Nangarhar the protest took a different form. Male students were seen walking out of their examinations, and outside the Nangarhar Medical Faculty, female and male students gathered in large groups protesting with signs.
In reaction, and likely an attempt to stop gatherings outside university gates, the Taliban allegedly stationed vehicles and fighters in various cities. According to a tweet by journalist Mukhtar Wafayee, Taliban fighters were stationed in different parts of major cities, including Mazar-i-Sharif and Kabul, allegedly to prevent the formation of public protests in response to the announcement. In addition, AW investigators found visual evidence of the presence of Taliban vehicles and fighters in Faryab, Balkh, and Kabul.
Continued protests and Taliban reaction
Despite the military presence in larger cities, various groups still protested against the Taliban’s decision to ban women’s access to university education.
On December 22, a large group of women gathered in Kabul to march and protest. One of the women recorded a video explaining what was happening. According to her account, the protest turned violent once the Taliban arrived. The women were allegedly whipped, and some were captured by the Taliban. She mentioned that female Taliban members were present to deal with the situation. The tweet included the information that at least five female protesters had been allegedly arrested. Among them were Zahra Mandigar and Angiza Gonish. Laila Basim, one of the protesters who participated in the march, provided a similar statement regarding the events in Kabul. According to Basim, several protesting women were taken away by female Taliban who whipped and arrested them.
AW investigators found evidence to corroborate some of these allegations. A video published by Amu TV showed female protesters walking along a path. The women were heard talking to each other and asking, “did they bring their female police?” They also mentioned that female Taliban could be seen alongside armed fighters and a Taliban vehicle. The three Taliban women, seen in the image below on the right, approached the group and tried to push and grab the protesters, seemingly to force them into the vehicle.
Two other videos, recorded inside a vehicle, show how the Taliban treated the women. In one of the videos, it is possible to hear a conversation between the protesters and the Taliban driver. A woman, claiming she was pregnant, resisted the arrest and refused to enter the vehicle. One of the other protesters can be heard saying, “do not beat her”, whilst the driver seemed impatient and kept repeating, “get her in”. It was not clear from the footage whether or not the pregnant woman entered the vehicle.
Amu TV shared a video filmed inside a moving Taliban vehicle. Although it is not possible to see any of the participants, the audio is clear. Inside the vehicle were various protesters, the Taliban driver, and at least one female Taliban. One of the protesters asked why the Taliban used force against women, to which the driver answered with a threat by saying, “Do not talk. I swear to God that I will kill you.” The female Taliban, possibly a police officer, informed the women that they would be taken to the police station and “whatever the police chief says will be the final decision”. Although it was not possible to verify that the two videos were recorded in the same vehicle, the voices and features of the seats were similar.
On the same day, one of the protestors, Soudabe Najand, issued a statement providing more details regarding the protest in Kabul. According to Najand, the Taliban were violent towards the women and media covering the event. She confirmed that at least one of her colleagues, Zahra, was arrested. She added that the Taliban collected various phones and checked their contents but did not return them to their owners. Najand stated, “My audience is neither the UN community because they do not listen to us, nor are they Taliban, because they do not value us. My audience is the men of Afghan society who should not be silent and do not let the women of Afghanistan be marginalised. They should not allow women to be ruined and society gets crippled. We call on the men of Afghanistan to come join hands with us and say no to this tyranny. We can never regain our freedoms until we all mobilise. Now that the Taliban have taken women's freedoms, this is not the end of the day, these Taliban laws will be expanded, and these laws will be applied to the men of society one day too. So please don't be silent and stand with your sisters and don't let this situation continue.”
Besides the incident showing the Taliban attempting to push female protesters into a vehicle, no evidence was found of physical violence or arrests while monitoring user-generated content during the protests.
Male students joined the protest
On December 21, the day after the announcement of the new Taliban ban, a large group of male medical students at the Nangarhar Faculty of Medicine protested the latest measure by abandoning their exams. A video shared on social media showed various male students wearing white lab coats, walking out of a room past a large number of female students watching in the corridors. Etilaatroz reported that male and female students at Nangarhar University’s Faculty of Medicine called the ministry's decision to suspend women’s education "unfair" and left their exams in protest. Outside the faculty building in Jalalabad, male and female students protested against the Taliban’s decision in segregated groups, as seen in the geolocated figure below.
On December 24, male students from Afghan Pamir, a higher education institute in Kabul, protested against the new measure by returning blank exam papers and leaving the class. The video, shared by Amu TV on social media, showed the inside of the exam room as the male students got up and left. The Afghan Pamir Facebook page shared a photo in August 2022 where a group of women was seen sitting in the same room. The apparent similarities between the two locations confirm that the male students protesting against the Taliban ban were, at the time of the footage, inside the Afghan Pamir Higher Education Institute in PD11 of Kabul city.
On December 24, male students of the Benawa Institute of Higher Education and the Mirwais Nikah Institute of Higher Education in Kandahar protested against the female student ban by walking out of their exams. A video shared by one of the male students from Mirwais Nikah Institute showed a large number of male students walking out of the building in protest. The person filming claimed that all 600 male students decided to boycott the exam and will continue their protest for another month.
AW found two more videos on social media showing the Taliban’s reaction to the students’ walkout. In one of the videos, a large group of male students are seen outdoors, walking away from their educational building. Shortly after, an armed Taliban started shooting into the air. The Taliban member firing his weapon is visible in one of the frames of the video, very close to the student running and filming. In a video from a different angle, the same group of students was seen running from the armed Taliban whilst a student was left behind. An unarmed alleged Taliban member is visible repeatedly punching and kicking the student on the ground, targeting his head. The student offered no resistance and at no point seemed to present a risk to anyone at the scene.
The figure below illustrates the location of the students leaving the Mirwais Nikah Institute in Kandahar (left), the Taliban shooting in the air to disperse the students (right), and a student being kicked on the ground (top).
A [WARNING: GRAPHIC] photo shared on social media showed facial injuries to a male student from Kandahar, allegedly caused by the Taliban. AW investigators could not verify if the injured man in the photo was the same as the one assaulted in the footage above.
Use of water cannons against protesters in Taloqan and Herat
On December 22 and December 24, women marched the streets of Taloqan city, Takhar province, to protest against the Taliban government’s decision to ban higher education for females. On December 22, the women, who at the time were allegedly in front of Takhar University’s entrance, were sprayed by a water cannon from a fire engine vehicle parked across the street. The woman recording the video talked to the camera and claimed that the female students were not allowed to enter the educational facilities and were beaten by the Taliban.
On December 24, female university students protested in Herat against the new measure. Similarly to events in Taloqan, the Taliban also used a water cannon from a fire engine to target the women. In a different video recorded in the same location, one of the protesting women can be seen with her clothes wet and talking directly to the camera. She claimed that the Taliban surrounded them and used water cannons against the women trying to take cover in the alley seen in the video.
The figure below shows the same strategy employed by the Taliban to deal with the women. On the left, a fire engine used a water cannon against the female protesters in Takhar, and on the right, a fire engine used the same dispersing technique against a group of female students in Herat.
Women blocked from other facilities
The closure of universities for female students is not the only new restriction for women in Afghanistan. On December 21, sources confirmed women were also stopped from entering wedding halls in Samangan province. A source in Samangan told AW that the Taliban also banned girls from going to private educational training centres where they were learning English and Science as an alternative opportunity when girls’ schools were closed.
According to sources, the Taliban have also closed girls' schools beyond grade six in Balkh, where, until now, girls beyond grade six had been able to attend, contrary to other provinces where girls’ secondary schools have remained closed since the Taliban’s return. Last year, reports emerged on social media that some girls’ schools had started to reopen enforcing the hijab decree. AW geolocated images of girls attending school in Balkh fully covered on May 23.
Multiple sources in Balkh confirmed that girls’ schools had been closed in the province, and added that female instructors have been told to stay home until further notice. Though the schools are currently on winter break, AW was told that some female instructors were turned away when they went into the schools for administrative purposes. They were allegedly told to stay home until they heard back from the province’s educational officials.
Pro-Taliban response largely supportive but some dissent
The announcement of the ban on women attending universities was followed by mixed reactions from the Taliban’s social media activists, some of whom showed disappointment, while others said that they should obey the leadership even if they dislike some decisions.
The majority of pro-Taliban social media users supported and defended the decision to ban women from universities. Several accounts, including a female pro-Taliban user, voiced displeasure over international communities’ involvement in female education in Afghanistan, stating, “It does not concern or affect the international community in any way.”
A Taliban social media activist with over one hundred thousand followers wrote: “The decision of the Ministry of Higher Education should be respected. Obedience to the leader is obligatory for all, and obedience is obligatory until further notice by the leadership.”
“Obedience does not mean that you obey according to your wishes, but obedience is defined by accepting the opposite position of your mood,” one Taliban supporter tweeted, implying that people should not complain about the Taliban's decision on the ban and follow the rules the Taliban implement. “We welcome any decision of leadership that Allah is pleased with, and it is good for the system. Our success is in obedience,” another pro-Taliban social media activist wrote.
The majority of pro-Taliban social media users were seen defending the decision. However, this is likely due to their obeying the leadership based on Islamic principles. They are likely unhappy with the decision but will not openly express their thoughts. A minimal number of pro-Taliban accounts spoke out against the ban, expressing support for female students and sharing statements such as: “Starting tomorrow, I will not go to university until girls are allowed to study again.”
Former Taliban official and prominent social media activist Mobeen Khan [General Mobeen] reacted by tweeting, “May Allah have mercy on Afghans”, and after a few minutes, wrote in another tweet, “My country, goodbye, God bless you”. Mobeen, who served as spokesperson of the Kabul Police in late 2021 and is a key social media activist within the Taliban community, often participates in media interaction to defend the Taliban's policies and criticise the former government of Afghanistan. However, in his most recent tweets, Mobeen appears to be openly disappointed by the announcement of the Ministry of Higher Education.