One Year of Women Barred from Higher Education in Afghanistan

December marks one year since the ruling Taliban authorities in Afghanistan issued a directive to public and private universities to ban female students. Higher education institutions were forced to put the ban into effect immediately, putting an end to the education of tens of thousands of women across Afghanistan, and barring girls and young women who had been hopeful to soon start their university journey.

Afghanistan is the only country in the world to officially ban women from education, from grade seven onwards. Also barred from many forms of employment, being denied the opportunity to earn an income has plunged many female-headed households into stark poverty. The World Food Program reports that two-thirds of Afghans don’t know where their next meal will come from. Gender apartheid policies are directly contributing to this worsening humanitarian disaster.

“Excluding half the population from accessing higher education is a grave abuse of human rights, but will also debilitate Afghanistan’s economic future by cutting off the supply of educated professionals the country needs not just to develop and advance, but just to function,” said Lauryn Oates, executive director of Canadian Women for Women in Afghanistan (CW4WAfghan). “This, and other discriminatory policies, are taking the country backwards and causing irreparable harm,” she added. 

CW4WAfghan continues to demand that the full right to education be restored for women and girls. In the meantime, the organization invites higher education institutions in Canada and around the world to open their doors to Afghan women. Their Higher Education Action Toolkit outlines six practical ways universities and colleges can help.

Every day we are reminded of the high cost to millions of girls and women of being denied an education. As just one recent example, we share the words of Mehria, a young Afghan woman who had been studying law when the higher education ban took effect last year at this time: “I don’t see a future for myself after being banned from university. My family wants me to marry some random man so that their responsibility for me is fulfilled. I had high dreams for myself and my future career. Now, all I see is a dark future awaiting me.”