A student recalls the day the Taliban closed universities to women.
"I wanted to become a journalist working on political shows – now, it is impossible"
For Parnian, not her real name, the day the Taliban closed universities for women and girls in Afghanistan started like any other December day as she walked to class with her friends. But arriving at the gates of her university in Kabul – she realised something was different.
“We saw the Taliban were there and only allowed male students to enter,” Parnian recalls. “I wanted to go inside the university, and at that moment, one of the Taliban fighters pointed his gun towards me.”
On December 20, the Taliban’s Higher Education Ministry spokesperson, Hafiz Ziaullah Hashemi, tweeted an image of a letter instructing all public and private universities and educational institutions to suspend access to female students immediately.
Two days later acting Higher Education Minister Nida Mohammad Nadim defended the move, telling Afghan state media that several issues had prompted the decision, including female students not adhering to the group’s interpretation of Islamic dress code and interaction between male and female students.
“Our exam papers became wet with our tears”
Alongside her studies in political sciences at a private university in Afghanistan’s capital, Parnian also worked as a teacher at another university. After being turned away by the Taliban guards at the private university, she decided to make her way to the other institution – only to find the measures were being rolled out across the city.
“Around 600 female students are studying there – most of them are secondary school students who were already banned from going to school,” she tells Afghan Witness (AW). “The Taliban did not allow them [to enter] and forcibly took them out of their classes – they were terrified.”
Blocked from two different institutions, Parnian tried a final location where she also studied. Here she says the administration convinced the Taliban to spare female students two hours to take their exams. She describes how pressure mounted as the Taliban set a timer for the exam to finish.
“While we were taking the exam, the Taliban were on the seventh floor waiting to close the university for us. Their vehicles were on standby outside,” Parnian says, adding that the academic institution “turned into a military zone.”
“Our exam papers became wet with our tears – even our teachers and professors were crying,” she says.
When the exam was over, Parnian says the students were told to use the university's transport vans to get home. She says there were checkpoints stationed “every few metres”, where the Taliban would stop the vehicles to reiterate the new restrictions.
If she does not finish university within the next year, Parnian says this will be the third time she has been unable to complete her studies – the previous times were due to family reasons.
“I wanted to become a journalist working on political shows – now, it is impossible,” she says.
Alongside her studies in political sciences, Parnian also studied Journalism at another university and had been working as an intern at a private TV station up until the Taliban’s takeover, when she was told by her employer that she could no longer work there.
Since then, she has witnessed a string of restrictions rolled out against women and girls in Afghanistan. Even before the closure of universities to women, Parnian says the Taliban implemented a strict dress code for female students.
“They took me out of the university because I wore white sneakers,” she explains. “The same scenario if our hair was visible, if our headscarves were not black… if our wrist's skin was visible, and if male and female students were seen talking to each other.”
In late March 2022, the Taliban were set to reopen girls’ secondary schools nationwide, but U-turned on their decision, insisting a ruling was yet to be made on girls’ uniforms. Considering the recent university ban, most female students in Afghanistan are currently only allowed to study until sixth grade. There has been no indication of when the schools and universities might reopen.
“To be honest, I am hopeless,” Parnian sighs, sobbing quietly. “There is no place for us in this society.”
Interview by Afghan Witness