By: Sherin Yousfi and Ziba Balkhi
An Afghan scholarship grantee has been refused a copy of her academic certificate from Kabul University which is required for the Italian university offering her a place.
Somaiya, 26, a computer science graduate has been wandering the government offices of the Taliban for three weeks trying to get her academic certificate to prove her studies. She needs to send it to a university in Italy within a certain timeframe. But the day after Somaiya arrived in Kabul with her brother to complete her paperwork, the Taliban forbade the distribution of educational certificates to female.
“I am wandering around trying to find a way to get my degree here,” she says, adding that if she doesn’t send it in 20 days, she believes will lose the scholarship opportunity.
She says the scholarship opportunity was gained with great difficulty and the efforts of another brother living in Italy.
The Taliban’s Ministry of Higher Education officially closed higher education institutions to women in Afghanistan on 20 December “until further notice.”
Students who spoke to Rukhshana Media for this report say that they are losing opportunities abroad as well as Taliban officials use the ban as a pretext to prevent distribution of educational certificates to those who have completed study programs. Many girls and women have sought scholarships in foreign universities following the closure of Afghanistan’s universities.
Nilofar*, 23, is a journalism graduate from Balkh University who graduated nine months ago. She decided to leave Afghanistan to do a master’s degree and started the administrative application process two months ago. However she had to suspend all efforts when the Taliban’s ban was announced.
“Because girls could only attend university on specific days after girls and boys were separated in universities, we were limited in following up on our documents in time. This was partly why I could not get them finished in nearly two months,” she says.
Nilofar says she also faced harassment and abuse during those months of chasing her graduation documents.
“There was never a day when the Taliban did not insult the girls at the university entrance gate,” she says.
“Even though we were wearing hijab properly, when we went paid the diploma fee in the bank, they did not allow us to enter the bank without a type of veil, and they verbally abused us. I had to endure it because I needed my documents,” she says.
But she says the Taliban have complicated the process at every turn because she is female.
“My brother is not here and my father is not alive, so how can I follow up on my documents? They don’t even accept uncles as lawyers to follow it up,” she says.
Nilofar says Afghanistan is turning into a graveyard for women. “Even when we are given the opportunity to study in other countries, the Taliban makes us lose the opportunity.”
“I missed my job”
Hamida*, 25, tells Rukhshana Media that if she could get a certificate, her fate would be different now. A computer science graduate from Balkh University, she was an employee of a telecommunication company in Balkh province before the decree banning women’s work with NGOs. After that decree, many telecommunications companies began firing female staff – though not all of them.
“Because we have female customers, not all the women were fired. But priority was given to female employees who had educational certificates,” she says.
Hamida’s employer didn’t have a copy of her certificate because she started working for the company while still a student. A few months after she graduated, she applied for a hard copy of her certificate. She spent more than 15 days going from office to office of the distribution staff, with no luck.
She believes that if she had been able to get her certificate, she would not be homebound without a job now. That small administrative hurdle has had a terrible impact on her life, losing both her job and her opportunity for further study.
“When I was working in the company, our life and economic situation were very good, but now we can hardly survive,” she says.
A staff member at Balkh Provincial Directorate of Student Affairs, who does not want to be identified, says male relatives are able to pick up the certificates.
“Every day, fathers or brothers of girls come and carry out the work of their sister’s or daughter’s academic documents without any problems,” he says, “We don’t degrees, because the paper is finished, but we issue certificates and transcripts.”
Qudoos Ahmad*, a brother of a female graduate, disputes the staffer’s account. He went to Balkh University to follow up on his sister’s documents, but he has been told that girls are not given academic certificates.
“When I went to the relevant department at the university, they told me that they will not give me the documents because the Ministry of Education has said not to issue them for girls,” he says.
However, through mediation from one of his friends who was employed at the student affairs department, Qudoos was finally able to obtain his sister’s education certificate. He acknowledges he was one of the lucky ones.
“If there is no one to help from inside, the documents won’t be processed,” he says.
Habiba, 25, is an Administration and Policy graduate of Kabul University. She says that she has not been able to get her degree from the Ministry of Higher Education of the Taliban for a year. Because of this, she has missed the opportunities to apply to study a master’s degree abroad several times.
“When I went to the ministry, they did not allow me at first. After a lot of apologies and pleas, I told one of the employees of the ministry that I need them. He responded aggressively, asking me ‘Why does a girl needs a degree? What do you want to do with a degree?’
The ministry staffer then told her harshly to ‘Get lost.’
“I couldn’t believe that I would hear such words in the Ministry of Higher Education,” she says.
Maryam, 28, recently graduated from a private university in medicine. She says she is very lucky that she can work because health workers were largely spared from the Taliban’s ban on women’s work because of the need to treat women. Nevertheless, the Ministry of Higher Education refuses to issue her academic certificate.
“When I apply to other places for jobs, they ask for proof of my degree,” she says.
Despite trying for two weeks to get a copy, the Ministry of Higher Education tells her to “wait until further notice.”
Women and girls feel this is yet another move of the Taliban that effectively makes them like hostages to their whims, restricting and suppressing their lives and opportunities to eliminate them from public life.
A Kabul University professor, who did not want to be named, tells Rukhshana Media that all female employees of public and private universities have lost their jobs, and the Taliban do not allow male professors to follow up on the documents of their female students.
“There are many girls wandering around trying to get the approval to finalise their degree, but the Taliban does not allow the dean to give even one signature,” he says. “Any female deans no longer have the right to come to the university to sign and approve the documents.”
The ban on women receiving academic documents is unofficial, but not surprising. It adds to a lengthy list of Taliban restrictions against women, which ensures women and girls have almost no education, autonomy, mobility or work in Afghanistan, while also preventing them from pursuing any opportunities abroad.
*Note: The names of some interviewees have been chosen as pseudonyms at their request.