A lecturer's room in Afghanistan is filled with the aching noise of female students crying in agony as they learn the heartbreaking news that they are no longer allowed to attend university. Their dreams of becoming doctors, nurses, lawyers, teachers, and more, shattered to pieces. This is the ongoing reality for women and girls living under Taliban rule in Afghanistan.

Over a year after the Taliban barred girls from secondary school, the Islamist regime announced on Dec. 20, 2022, that women were to be banned from universities including students, female teachers, and professors in what the UN Human Rights High Commissioner Volker Türk has called “another appalling and cruel blow to the rights of Afghan women and girls.”

“My female students are distraught and I don’t know how to console them,” an anonymous lecturer in Afghanistan told the Guardian. A female student at Kabul University said: "They destroyed the only bridge that could connect me with my future." Another told the BBC that she was a woman who had "lost everything."

The news sparked a handful of protests in the country’s capital but these were quickly shut down by security forces. 

Meanwhile on the international stage, the UN and several countries condemned the order, which takes Afghanistan back to the Taliban's first period of rule when girls could not receive a formal education.

Since the Taliban took control of the country on Aug. 15, 2021, human rights violations against women and girls have mounted steadily. Despite initial promises that women would be allowed to exercise their human rights under Sharia law — including the right to work and to study — the Taliban has systematically excluded women and girls from public life.

In May 2021, a decree from the group’s Supreme Leader made it compulsory for women to cover their faces in public and instructed them to remain in their homes except in cases of necessity. The Ministry of Women’s Affairs was abolished in September 2021 and replaced with the so-called "morality police", effectively eliminating women’s right to political participation. Women have also been banned from traveling long distances without a male chaperone, with unchaperoned women increasingly being denied access to essential services such as health care. 

Former member of the Afghan parliament, Naheed Farid, has called the current state of the country “gender apartheid.” 

On Dec. 24, 2022, just four days after the university ban, the Taliban government also announced a ban on women working for NGOs that provide aid relief. Afghanistan is already facing economic collapse and is in a humanitarian crisis of epic proportions, with 24.4 million Afghans facing acute hunger. UN experts have called the removal of women from humanitarian work a “double blow of preventing the delivery of vital life-saving services and denying many women of their livelihood.”

Despite these harsh measures and the real threat of violent retaliation, the people of Afghanistan, both women and men, refuse to be silenced by the oppressive regime, taking both to the streets and online to voice their defiance and despair.

These are just a few of the many powerful and heartbreaking reactions from Afghan people showing just how much is at stake, and why we must all join them in speaking up. As UN Women chief Sima Bahous stated: “We must continue to amplify their voices as they resist erasure. In the face of the Taliban’s systematic and deliberate violations of their rights, we must continue to speak out for and stand in solidarity with our Afghan sisters.”

1. Male students in Afghanistan walk out of their exams. 

Picture this: you're a university student and it’s the day of your final exams, but instead of answering any of the questions, you walk out as a form of protest. That's exactly what is happening in Afghanistan. 

Male university students and professors in Afghanistan are walking out of their exams in response to the Taliban’s decision to ban women from universities. This is what solidarity looks like. 

2. An Afghan professor tears up his university degree live on TV.

Gil Scott-Heron may have famously sung “the revolution will not be televised,” but this Afghan professor used live TV as a platform for protest.

As tears welled up in his eyes and his voice quivered, Ismail Mashal tore up his university degree live on air in a powerful act of resistance against the Taliban’s ban. 

He said: “From today, I don’t need these diplomas anymore, because this country is no place for an education. If my sister and my mother can’t study, then I don’t accept this education.” 

3. Two Afghan women sing: 'It's time for you and I to fight shoulder to shoulder.' 

Music has a way of connecting us all and it can also act as a medium to express civic resistance, as shown through this moving performance by two Afghan sisters, opposing the Taliban from their bedroom

The a cappella rendition speaks of despair and the hope that things will change in the country for Afghan women and girls. The sisters sing “it’s our secret fight” in the hope that their act of resistance will inspire other women to stand up for injustices

4.  A young Afghan girl shares a breathtaking speech about education.

This young Afghan girl took to the streets to air her fury at being denied an education, joined by two young boys holding protest banners reading “We need freedom” and “Free Afghanistan.”

Speaking passionately, she asks: “Men and women have equal rights, so who are these Taliban to take this opportunity and rights from us?” 

5. Protesting Afghan women are attacked with water cannons.

A group of Afghan women protesting in the city of Herat in response to the Taliban’s ban was met with a violent backlash when security forces unleashed large water cannons against the women protesters, causing them to disperse and take refuge. 

This is just one of a number of violent tactics being used by the Taliban soldiers to squash civic space and silence the voice of activists in the country. 

6. Taliban soldiers chase Afghan women down the streets shooting at them.

In a stark reminder of the risk that women run when they express any opposition to the regime, this video shows Afghan women running for their lives as Taliban soldiers chase them down the streets shooting at them.

These women had been bravely raising their voices in the streets to stand up for their right to an education.

Global Citizen Life

Demand Equity

These Reactions to the Taliban’s Ban on Women & Girls’ Education Show Why We Must All Speak Up

By Fadeke Banjo