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Taliban bans many subjects for women in Afghan varsities

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Kabul: A year after banning most teenage girls from attending school, the Taliban are imposing sweeping restrictions on which courses women can enroll for in at public universities, a BBC report said.

The choice for female students can vary from university to university, and depending on which part of the country you’re in, the BBC found. Women are allowed to take medicine and nursing in all provinces, as well as teacher training and Islamic studies.

But veterinary science, engineering, economics and agriculture appear off-limits to women nationwide, while opportunities to study journalism are extremely limited.

The militant group have said the correct “Islamic environment” needs to be created for older girls to be allowed back into schools. However, more than a year after they returned to power this still has not happened in most provinces, with reports suggesting hardliners in the group remain opposed to it.

Many girls did not get to complete their final year at school as girls were banned from high school by the Taliban after they seized power in August 2021, the BBC said.

The Taliban did, however, make the decision that girls who were in the last year of school could also sit university entrance exams.

This hope though appears short-lived with the limitations on the subjects being introduced for women only.

At several universities, the BBC report said, female students were given the option of taking a test in subjects such as nursing, midwifery or literature, which are among the courses on offer at the seven faculties open to them at Nangarhar, but not in journalism.

University professors who supervised the entrance examination there confirmed to the BBC that boys would be allowed to choose any subject they want.

Officials expect 100,000 students (including 30,000 women) were likely to take university entrance exams in Afghanistan this year, the BBC said.

The academic year starts either in March or August, and it usually takes two to three months for entrance exam results to be announced. Now, with the Taliban back in power, nobody is sure when the results will be released, the BBC reported.

Male and female students have been taking the exams separately – in line with Taliban rules on segregating students by gender – for example boys in the morning, girls in the afternoon or by using screens in exam halls. In some provinces where the candidate numbers were high, entrance exams were held over two or three days.

Activists told the BBC, the number of female students applying for university will fall dramatically in the coming years, unless the Taliban reopen secondary schools to girls from grades 6 to 12.

Taliban officials are downplaying the restrictions. Abdul Qadir Khamush, who heads the examinations division in the Ministry of Higher Education, says girls can choose their favourite subject, with the exception of just three or four.

“We need to provide separate classes for women. In some areas the number of female candidates are low. So we are not allowing women to apply for certain courses.”

Officials are yet to reveal the number of university places on offer this year.

Afghanistan’s education sector was badly affected after the Taliban takeover and there has been an exodus of trained academics after the withdrawal of US-led forces last year.

The country’s economy has been largely dependent on foreign aid in recent decades, but aid agencies have partly – and in some cases fully – withdrawn support to the education sector after the Taliban refused to allow girls into all secondary schools.

Many of the teaching staff who remain go unpaid for months, the BBC reported.

Taliban restrictions on which subjects girls can study are not always uniformly applied across the country, the BBC discovered. For instance, in Kabul University, girls are still allowed on some courses in the journalism faculty.

But girls cannot circumvent the distance-rule. The Taliban have divided the country into a number of zones and girls are not allowed to study outside them, in what amounts to another very serious restriction based on sex, the BBC found.

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