‘What will she grow up to be?’ Afghan backlash grows over Taliban’s ban on higher education for women

Special ‘What will she grow up to be?’ Afghan backlash grows over Taliban’s ban on higher education for women
As the Taliban has failed to keep its promises about access to education for girls and women, protests have taken place, including this one outside the Ministry of Education in Kabul in March. (AFP)
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Updated 29 December 2022
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‘What will she grow up to be?’ Afghan backlash grows over Taliban’s ban on higher education for women

‘What will she grow up to be?’ Afghan backlash grows over Taliban’s ban on higher education for women
  • The insular regime’s latest restrictions on civil liberties have drawn international condemnation  
  • Afghan students and professors have staged walkouts and tendered resignations over the ruling 

DUBAI: Zaram received precious little formal education while growing up in Afghanistan’s rural southern province of Kandahar, but always hoped his children would someday benefit from the freedoms and opportunities long denied to him.

So when he learned in mid-December that the country’s Taliban rulers had outlawed higher education for women, depriving his daughter of the right to study, he was devastated.

“I wanted to be able to provide for my girl to have a better life than we are living,” Zaram, who did not give his real name fearing reprisals, told Arab News. “It will be impossible without her having an education. I cannot teach her myself as I barely went to school myself.”

The Taliban announced it was barring women and girls from colleges and universities with immediate effect on Dec. 20.

“You all are informed to immediately implement the mentioned order of suspending education of females until further notice,” Neda Mohammad Nadeem, the minister for higher education, said in a statement. 

The following day, a crowd of Afghan women marched defiantly through the streets of Kabul, protesting against the new decree, chanting: “Either for everyone or for no one. One for all, all for one.” Women were filmed weeping and consoling each other outside one campus.  




The Taliban announced it was barring women and girls from colleges and universities with immediate effect on Dec. 20. (AFP)

Following the US military’s chaotic withdrawal from the country and the Taliban’s capture of Kabul in August 2021, many Afghans had hoped the ultra-conservative group would be more lenient than it had been during its previous stint in power between 1996 and 2001. 

Those hopes were quickly dashed, however, as freedoms enjoyed over the preceding 20 years under the US-backed Afghan government were steadily eroded at the command of the group’s Kandahar-based leader, Hibatullah Akhundzadan. 

Just a month after returning to power, the regime imposed gender-segregated university entrances and classrooms and imposed hijabs as part of a compulsory dress code. 

Then, on March 23 this year, when girls’ secondary schools were scheduled to reopen, the Taliban abruptly rescinded the directive, barring tens of thousands of teenage girls from education. Primary school-aged girls, at least for now, are still permitted to receive schooling up until the sixth grade. 

In May, the Taliban ordered women to fully cover themselves, including their faces, in public, to remain at home, and to only travel between cities with a male escort. In November, a new directive banned women from entering parks, funfairs, gyms and public baths. 

On Saturday, the Taliban banned women from working in non-governmental organizations, leading many foreign humanitarian aid agencies to announce they were withdrawing from the crisis-wracked country.

Now, nearly all women and girls over the age of 12 are barred from educational institutions in Afghanistan. According to UNICEF, around 850,000 Afghan girls have stopped attending school. 




Nearly all women and girls over the age of 12 are barred from educational institutions in Afghanistan. (AFP)

Afghanistan is now the only country in the world to ban women and girls from attending schools and universities. 

The rules do not seem to apply to the Taliban elite, however. According to the Afghanistan Analysts Network (AAN), an independent, non-profit policy research group based in Kabul, senior Taliban officials have their daughters enrolled at schools in Qatar and Pakistan. 

The two daughters of Suhail Shaheen, the Taliban government’s spokesman, are reportedly attending school in Doha, while the regime’s health minister, Qalandar Ibad, reportedly has a daughter who graduated from medical school.  

One Qatar-based Taliban official told AAN that “since everyone in the neighborhood was going to school, our children demanded that they go to school too. I enrolled my three sons and two daughters.” 

“It is absolutely hypocritical,” a foreign humanitarian aid worker based in Afghanistan, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Arab News. 

“But the Taliban leaders do not follow a global logic of what’s right and wrong, they follow their own internal logic. It is the driving force behind their decision making. They do not feel the need to justify anything to anyone. 

AFGHAN WOMEN’S RIGHTS

MARCH 2022 — Secondary school children shut out of schools, ordered to stay home.

MAY — Women ordered to fully cover and stay at home.

AUGUST — Taliban fighters beat female protesters.

NOVEMBER — Women banned from parks, fun fairs, gyms and public baths.

DECEMBER — Women no longer allowed to work at national and international NGOs, banned from university campuses.

“This educational ban is the Taliban’s way of telling the world we are here to rule, to stay, and we do not give a damn about what anyone has to say nor can anyone interfere. Nowhere else in the Muslim world is there a debate on whether sharia allows women to pursue their education. For it to now be discussed by scholars in Afghanistan is astounding.”

The regime’s decree has met an intense backlash. One video circulating on social media shows female students in eastern Nangarhar province disrupting their male classmates’ final exams for refusing to stand in solidarity with them. 

At another university department in the same province, male medical students willfully walked out of their exams in protest at the regime’s decision to ban females. Videos have emerged of Taliban soldiers beating male student protesters. 

Several male university staff have also resigned in solidarity. One Kabul-based professor tore up his diplomas during a live television interview aired by TOLOnews. 

“From today, I don’t need these diplomas because this country is no longer a place of education. If my sister and mother can’t study, then I don’t accept this education,” he told the news channel. 




Afghanistan is now the only country in the world to ban women and girls from attending schools and universities. (AFP)

The Taliban’s crackdown on women’s rights has drawn intense condemnation from the international community, including the government of Saudi Arabia. The Taliban has hit back, however, saying foreign governments should “not interfere in Afghanistan’s internal affairs.”

On Tuesday, the UN Security Council called on the Taliban to reverse its policies targeting women and girls, expressing alarm at the “increasing erosion” of human rights in the country. 

The 15-member UN Security Council said in a statement it was “deeply alarmed” by the increasing restrictions on women’s education, calling for “the full, equal, and meaningful participation of women and girls in Afghanistan.” 

It urged the Taliban “to reopen schools and swiftly reverse these policies and practices, which represents an increasing erosion for the respect of human rights and fundamental freedoms.” 

In its statement, it also condemned the ban on women working for NGOs, adding to warnings of the detrimental impact on aid operations in a country where millions rely on them.   

“These restrictions contradict the commitments made by the Taliban to the Afghan people as well as the expectations of the international community,” it said.

Unless the Taliban shows it is willing to soften its hardline approach, particularly on matters relating to women’s rights, the regime is unlikely to gain access to billions of dollars in desperately needed aid, loans and frozen assets held by the US, International Monetary Fund and World Bank.




The Taliban took over last year after US troops left Afghanistan. (AFP)

Beyond sanctions and condemnations, however, there seems to be little the international community is willing or able to do to compel the Taliban to change ideological course. The Afghan people, it would appear, are on their own. 

“Afghans have lost all their faith in the regime and their ability or willingness to reverse decisions,” the foreign humanitarian aid worker told Arab News. 

“If any new changes are to be made, I believe it will be like a page out of the 1990s handbook where women are only allowed to continue their education in the medical sector for professions like nurses, doctors, midwives.

“There is a big trust deficit between the people and the government. Even the ministers who do not agree with the education decree have not voiced their opinion on the matter; you simply do not oppose the supreme leader. 

“But we are at an interesting juncture, it will be interesting to see how this will play out as there is rising courage among the citizens in standing up for their rights. 

“The world is watching dumbfounded at what is happening, yet the only thing the international community does is tweet out condemnations, the same old regurgitated words. Meanwhile women’s rights are shrinking day by day.”

For Zaram, the Kandahar-based father, there is little hope of his daughter obtaining a decent education, pursuing a career of her choice, or having a fulfilling life beyond the confines of the home.

“I feel ashamed of myself in so many ways. I feel I have failed her,” Zaram told Arab News. “What will she grow up to be? What options will she have? She will have nothing. I don’t want her future to be her being married off. She deserves better.”  


At least ten Niger soldiers killed in militant attack

At least ten Niger soldiers killed in militant attack
Updated 8 sec ago
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At least ten Niger soldiers killed in militant attack

At least ten Niger soldiers killed in militant attack
  • Islamist militants have stepped up their attacks amid the power struggles in some countries in the Sahel region, with Niger as the latest to be hit by a coup

NIAMEY: At least ten Niger soldiers were killed in an attack by militants in the country’s southwest on Thursday morning, three security sources told Reuters.

The attack took place about 190 km (118 miles) from the capital Niamey in Kandadji, near the tri-border zone of Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger that has been the epicenter of Islamist insurgencies in the Sahel region in the last few years.
The sources including a senior military officer, who requested anonymity because they are not authorized to speak to the media, did not say which group was responsible. Local affiliates of Al-Qaeda and Islamic State are active in the region and wage frequent attacks on soldiers and civilians.
Two security sources said the army responded to the attack with ground troops as well as helicopters, one of which was hit but was able to return to its base.
Niger is run by a military junta that seized power in a coup in July, partly out of discontent at the worsening security situation. Neighbouring Mali and Burkina Faso have each had two coups in the last three years.
However, security analysts say attacks had been falling in Niger under ousted President Mohamed Bazoum, who had tried to engage with Islamists and the rural communities where they are rooted.
At least 17 soldiers were killed in another attack in southwestern Niger in mid-August.
France said on Sunday it would withdraw its 1,500 troops from Niger before the end of the year, after weeks of pressure from the junta and popular demonstrations against the former colonial ruler, which had forces there to fight the insurgents.
On Thursday, several hundred pro-junta supporters gathered again in front of the French military base in the capital Niamey to demand that the troops leave.


Germany, Israel sign ‘historic’ missile shield deal

Germany, Israel sign ‘historic’ missile shield deal
Updated 28 September 2023
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Germany, Israel sign ‘historic’ missile shield deal

Germany, Israel sign ‘historic’ missile shield deal
  • Worth around $3.5 billion (€3.3 billion), the sale is the biggest ever deal for Israel’s military industry

BERLIN: Germany on Thursday signed a deal to acquire the Israeli-made Arrow 3 hypersonic missile system that will become a key part of Europe’s defense against air attack.

The signing of the deal was a “historic day” for both countries, German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius said at a press conference alongside his Israeli counterpart Yoav Gallant.

Worth around $3.5 billion (€3.3 billion), the sale is the biggest ever deal for Israel’s military industry.

The Arrow 3 system would make “German air defense ready for the future,” Pistorius said.

Germany has led a push to bolster NATO’s air defenses in Europe, urging allies to buy deterrence systems together.

“We can see with the daily Russian attacks on Ukraine how important anti-air defense is,” Pistorius said.

“Only 80 years since the end of the Second World War yet Israel and Germany join hands today in building a safer future,” he said.

The long-range Arrow 3 system, designed to shoot down missiles above the Earth’s atmosphere, is powerful enough to offer protective cover for neighboring EU states.

The system was developed and produced by Israel and the US and the sale had to be approved by Washington before it could be finalized.

The system was first deployed at an Israeli air force base in 2017 and has been used to protect Israel against attacks from Iran and Syria.

Arrow 3 is a “mobile system” that can be deployed depending on the threats faced, according to manufacturer Israel Aerospace Industries.

The money for the deal comes from a landmark €100-billion fund unveiled by Chancellor Olaf Scholz to bolster the country’s defenses in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

More than a dozen European countries have so far signed up to Germany’s common air defense project, the European Sky Shield Initiative.

The Sky Shield project would involve joint procurement for short-, medium- and long-range systems, including the German-made Iris-T, the American Patriot system and Arrow 3.

Some of Germany’s neighbors have however so far declined to sign up to the pact, including France and Poland.

Officials in Paris have argued instead for an air defense system using European equipment.

Berlin has said it expects the Arrow 3 system to be delivered in the final quarter of 2025.


Three killed in twin Dutch shootings

Three killed in twin Dutch shootings
Updated 28 September 2023
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Three killed in twin Dutch shootings

Three killed in twin Dutch shootings
  • Dutch police said they were still investigating the motive for the twin attacks by the 32-year-old man
  • The man first burst into a house in the Dutch port city and opened fire, killing a 39-year-old woman and seriously injuring her 14-year-old daughter

ROTTERDAM, Netherlands: A gunman dressed in combat gear and wearing a bulletproof vest went on a shooting rampage at a house and a hospital in Rotterdam Thursday, killing a 14-year-old girl, her mother and a teacher.
Dutch police said they were still investigating the motive for the twin attacks by the 32-year-old man, who also set fire to the hospital and the house.
The man first burst into a house in the Dutch port city and opened fire, killing a 39-year-old woman and seriously injuring her 14-year-old daughter, police chief Fred Westerbeke told reporters. The girl later died of her injuries.
He then moved to a classroom at the Erasmus MC university hospital, shooting dead a 46-year-old teacher before starting another fire in the facility, sparking panic.
Elite police stormed the hospital, as panicked medical staff in white coats flooded out of the building pushing patients in wheelchairs and on stretchers.
He was taken into custody shortly afterwards and chief public prosecutor Hugo Hillenaar told reporters the suspect was cooperating with police following his arrest.
“We cannot say anything about the motive of this terrible act at this time. The probe is still ongoing,” said Hillenaar.
The suspect was thought to have possessed only one firearm and there is no indication he had accomplices, authorities said.
Police said the suspect, a student at the hospital, was already known to the authorities over a conviction for animal cruelty.
An investigation is underway as to whether he was a student of the teacher shot dead. Authorities believe that the woman and her daughter were close neighbors of the suspect, leading Westerbeke to suggest they were “targeted attacks.”
He had earlier been described as tall, with black hair, wearing “combat-style” clothes and carrying a backpack.
“I am angry and sad,” said Rotterdam mayor Ahmed Aboutaleb, who spoke of a “black day” for his city.
“We have been shocked by a horrific incident... the emotion in the city is running high,” the mayor told reporters.
Witnesses described the chaotic scenes around the hospital, as helicopters buzzed overhead, and police snipers took up positions on the hospital roof.
“First there was a shooting on the fourth floor. Four or five shots were fired. Then a Molotov cocktail was thrown into the education center,” said a medical student quoted by RTL Nieuws, who did not give his name.
“There was a lot of panic and screaming... I didn’t hear any shots, just the panic and that’s what I started to act on,” public broadcaster NOS cited another eyewitness as saying.
Prime Minister Mark Rutte spoke of his “great dismay” at the shootings.
“My thoughts go out to the victims of the violence, their loved ones and all those who have been hugely scared,” he added in a statement on X, formerly Twitter.
King Willem-Alexander and Queen Maxima said their hearts went out to those suffering “intense grief.”
“It’s unbelievable,” said Rotterdam GP Matthijs van der Poel, cited on the Algemeen Dagblad website.
“Everyone is totally shocked by the events and is watching the news with horror. I’m afraid such things cannot be prevented,” he said.
Rotterdam is often the scene of shootings, usually attributed to score settling by rival drug gangs.
In 2019, three people were shot dead on a tram in Utrecht, sparking a huge manhunt.
And in 2011, the country was left shocked when 24-year-old Tristan van der Vlis killed six people and wounded 10 others in a rampage at a packed shopping mall.


Canada PM says he is sure Blinken will raise murder case with India

Canada PM says he is sure Blinken will raise murder case with India
Updated 28 September 2023
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Canada PM says he is sure Blinken will raise murder case with India

Canada PM says he is sure Blinken will raise murder case with India
  • Blinken is due to meet Indian Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar on Thursday
  • New Delhi has told Canada it was open to looking into any “specific” information on the killing

OTTAWA: Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Thursday he was sure US Secretary of State Antony Blinken would raise the murder of a Sikh separatist leader with his Indian counterpart when the two meet later in the day.

Trudeau made his remarks to reporters in Quebec, 10 days after he announced Canada suspected Indian government agents were linked to the murder of Hardeep Singh Nijjar, which took place in the province of British Columbia in June.

Blinken is due to meet Indian Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar on Thursday. Asked directly whether Blinken would bring up the case, Trudeau replied: “The Americans will certainly discuss this matter with the Indian government.”

India has dismissed Canada’s allegations as absurd. Jaishankar though said on Tuesday that New Delhi has told Canada it was open to looking into any “specific” or “relevant” information it provides on the killing.


Serbia opens ‘smart’ police station using UAE expertise

Serbia opens ‘smart’ police station using UAE expertise
Updated 28 September 2023
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Serbia opens ‘smart’ police station using UAE expertise

Serbia opens ‘smart’ police station using UAE expertise
  • High-tech facility will offer 24/7 security and community services

LONDON: Serbia has opened its first “smart” police station, drawing on the technological expertise of the UAE, Emirates News Agency reported on Thursday.

The initiative was inspired by the success of Dubai Police’s smart police stations, which offer 24/7 security and community services without human intervention.

The new high-tech police facility is part of the UAE and Serbia’s collaboration and exchanging of expertise in security, policing and crime prevention.

Bratislav Gasic, Serbia’s interior minister, praised the UAE for its support in establishing the police station, highlighting it as a testament to the growing ties between the two countries.

Lt. Gen. Abdullah Khalifa Al-Marri, commander-in-chief of Dubai Police, said the venture is part of the UAE’s strategic efforts to strengthen its international partnerships in line with the vision of Dubai ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum.

“Our shared objective is to transform Serbian police stations, combining Emirati innovation and Serbian security expertise. These smart police stations will provide various services in multiple languages 24/7 without human intervention, mirroring the SPS in Dubai,” he said.