The Taliban have imposed yet more restrictions on girls’ education in Afghanistan as the group barred girls from choosing certain subjects in the country’s national university entrance exam this year.

The form given to female students at the exam, received by the VOA Afghanistan Service, shows that female students did not have the option of choosing civil engineering, journalism, veterinary, agriculture and geology in this year’s exam held at the beginning of this month.

“I wanted to pursue journalism and looked to pick it, but it was not an option,” said 19-year-old Haseena Ahmadi, who took this year’s university entrance exam in the western Herat province.

Ahmadi added that omitting the subjects is a “tactic” used by the Taliban to stop women from pursuing higher education.

The Taliban, who seized power last year, banned girls’ secondary education in the country, but female students were allowed to return to universities and continue their studies in gender-segregated classes.

According to Save the Children, 80% of secondary school girls in Afghanistan were denied attending school.

“The majority of secondary school girls — about 850,000 out of 1.1 million — are not attending classes,” the report said.

The United Nations called the Taliban’s ban on secondary education “shameful” and called on the group to reopen the girls’ school.

Abdul Qadir Khamosh, the Taliban’s head of the university exam, acknowledged that some of the subjects were excluded.

In an interview with the BBC’s Pashto service, Khamosh claimed that “in some of the regions, women did not show interest in these subjects, and that is why the decision was made.”

Female students who took the exam, however, told VOA that the subjects they wanted to choose were not among those listed during the exam.

“I wanted to select engineering, but it was not an option, and I had to choose another subject,” said 18-year-old Huda, who did not want to reveal her real name for fear of reprisals.

“We were very stressed,” she said.

Nargis Mommand Hassanzai, a former lecturer at Kabul University, told VOA that these restrictions are “affecting girls’ mental health and forcing families to leave their country.”

She added that “a student can only succeed in a field that she likes to pursue.”

Hassanzai said the Taliban use religion or culture as an “excuse” to justify women’s rights violations.

Before the Taliban’s takeover, some 3.5 million girls were going to schools, and about 30% of the civil servants and around 28% of parliamentarians were women.

However, the Taliban’s return to power curbed women’s rights and freedoms.

Gender apartheid

Human Rights Watch called the Taliban’s new limitations on female students “concerning.”

“It’s deeply concerning to hear reports that the Taliban are now limiting what subjects girls and young women can study at [the] university level, and [are] banning girls and young women from most subjects,” Heather Barr of Human Rights Watch told the VOA Afghan Service.

She added, however, that this is not “surprising.”

Since seizing power last year, the Taliban have barred women from working in most government agencies and restricted them from working in the private sector in Afghanistan.

“Unfortunately, this new policy seems consistent with the type of gender apartheid that the Taliban are imposing increasingly across the country,” said Barr.

The U.S. announced last week a visa restriction on some of the current and former Taliban members who are “responsible for, or complicit in, repressing women and girls in Afghanistan through restrictive policies and violence.”

The Taliban called the new U.S. sanctions an “impediment to the development” in their relations with the Taliban.

More pressure

Afghan women’s rights activists have repeatedly called on the international community to use its political leverage to pressure the Taliban to grant women their rights.

Shukria Barakzai, former Afghan ambassador to Norway, told VOA that the world should stand with Afghan women protesting for their rights.

“I think we, Afghan women, are not receiving the political support that is needed,” Barakzai said. “In the past year, Afghan women’s protests did not stop for a single day. They are raising their voices every day.” 

She added that “the world does not want to hear those voices anymore.” 

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