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Afghan women are flocking to virtual learning amid Taliban’s university ban

Afghan women chant slogans to protest against the ban on university education for women, in Kabul on December 22, 2022. A small group of Afghan women staged a defiant protest in Kabul against a Taliban order banning them from universities, an activist said, adding that some were arrested. [AFP via Getty Images]

Afghan women are finding avenues to pursue their education as the Taliban continues to crack down on women’s rights, recently banning female students from going to university.

Since the Taliban took over in August 2021, women’s rights in education have been suppressed for girls of all ages, from secondary school to university.

The Taliban’s harsh interpretation of Islamic law has caused a wave of “underground education,” ranging from secret schools for girls within the country to women attending college secretly online.

The December announcement from the Taliban immediately banning women from university caused at least one online U.S. college to see an increase in Afghan female applicants.

The University of the People, which works with thousands of refugees, reported in one week after the Taliban’s new ban that it received 2,208 applications. This is the highest level of interest from Afghan women since the Taliban took over.

“I think that the women who come to us, most of them, stopped at school. They stopped studying, and they were forced to leave school. And as such, they have the desire to study. They want to feel that they’re part of the world,” University of the People President Shai Reshef told The Hill.

The school already has 2,000 Afghan women enrolled and 10,000 Afghan women who’ve applied. And when an Afghan woman is accepted, she is allowed to use a fake name in classes for safety.

Although the Taliban said when they took over in 2021 they would respect women’s rights, Afghan women have suffered rollbacks of their rights to be educated and hold certain jobs in their country. [AP Photo | Ebrahim Noroozi]

Future Learn, a digital British education platform, also announced it would be providing Afghan women inside the country free access to all of its courses after the Taliban banned women from university.

The company said it has seen a 700 percent increase in visits from Afghanistan since Dec. 22, meaning more than 2,100 new registrations and more than 1,800 enrollments.

Women in Afghanistan will have free access to more than 1,000 courses from different universities and will be given a certificate upon the completion of each course.

The effects of the Taliban’s ban were felt immediately after the announcement. The Taliban began guarding universities so that women could not get in, according to reports, leading to devastating videos for Afghan women.

“In my family, my mother, my sister and I really nearly cried when we saw those girls,” woman in Afghanistan studying at the University of the People told The Hill. She previously attended university in person, studying computer engineering, but switched to online learning after the Taliban took over.

The names of Afghan women in this article are being withheld due to safety concerns.

Virtual learning is difficult from Afghanistan

Online education in Afghanistan in itself can be inaccessible to the poor and those in rural areas without stable internet connections.

One Afghan woman who was looking to enroll in the University of the People told The Hill she did not have the internet connection necessary for virtual schooling and ended up leaving Afghanistan for another country to continue her studies.

Even for those in areas with internet access, Reshef says the school has to accommodate working with the rolling blackouts in Afghanistan the students might have.

“We have a lot of students who say we don’t have internet this week. It’s sporadic, and then they get an extension with the homework,” Reshef said.

The Afghan woman studying at the University of the People said that along with the difficulties with electricity, the cost of having a stable internet connection is also a financial barrier.

The risk of continuing education despite the Taliban’s rule puts extra anxiety on women, even within their homes.

The student in Afghanistan said she has to be careful even when relatives come to her house and “hide everything” that could show she is studying online.

She said she is constantly working on school and finding opportunities outside her country in order to obtain a job, since it is “nearly impossible” for women to get work in Afghanistan.

“So if I don’t get the education, my family will starve,” she said.

Funding available to Afghan women

The new difficulties Afghanistan faces with education, particularly for girls and women, have not gone unnoticed, and resources are available.

A group of eight institutions, including Dartmouth College and New York University, recently launched the Global Student Haven Initiative. It looks to give financial aid and support to bring in students affected by crises in their country. Education Bridge for Afghanistan is a group that specifically works to get online education to students in Afghanistan, especially women and girls who have been banned from their schools. The University of the People, which is tuition-free but has a cost at the end of each class, has created scholarships for Afghan women funded by their donors. They are disbursed on a first-come, first-served basis.


(c) 2023, The Hill



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