The Taliban threatened to shoot me – just because I wanted to go to university

For women in Afghanistan, education is now a dream, not a reality (Picture: AFP/Getty)

At 8am on Tuesday, December 20 last year, I got on the bus I shared with 30 other young women to ride to university.

It was the end of my third semester, and we were due to take our biochemistry exam.

But a mile into the journey, the Taliban stepped out into the road and stopped us. Staring at their guns, everyone froze and went silent.

‘Go home, Alhamdulillah [thanks be to God],’ one of them said. ‘Universities have been closed for girls.’

Everyone’s heart was beating so fast, and we could hear each other’s in the silence. One of our teachers left the bus to talk to them, but she was not even allowed to say a word. When I saw tears on her face, it reminded me of the worst day of my life – the day the Taliban took control of Kabul [in August 2021] and we all started crying, left our classes and ran home.

A voice broke our thoughts, shouting: ‘All of you, get out of the bus, or I will blow holes right through your heads.’

Panicking, we got out and started walking. I didn’t go home. All I was thinking about was not missing my exam. I walked for an hour to get to the university.

Arriving at the gate, I was not alone. There were hundreds of other girls like me who had come to the university, who had chosen what they wanted – not what they were told. Staff opened the gate and said ‘let’s take your last exam before they reach here and close the university’.

The Taliban banned higher education for women in December (Picture: AFP/Getty)

We took exam papers, and everyone tried to finish it as quickly as they could. It was to be the last day of school.

And with that, I lost my very basic right to education.

I spend days thinking ‘what if’. What if I was taking my classes – would I be a step closer to my dream of becoming a scientist? Would I know more about biochemistry, my source of curiosity?

As days pass, I realise more and more that we didn’t only lose our right to education, but it took hope from us. And that hurts the most.

Marwa, an 18-year-old student, protesting alone outside Kabul University on December 22 (Picture: AFP/Getty)
Protestors outside Parliament calling for the right of all women to education, work and freedom (Picture: Wiktor Szymanowicz/Anadolu Agency/Getty)

My favorite memory is the first day I was dressed in all white clothes in my biophysics class. When the professor asked a question, I raised my hand and responded. She smiled and referred to me as ‘doctor’ – Dr Tamima. I often wonder, will that be the first and last time I’m called a doctor?

So remember, when the world reads or hears about the Taliban’s misogynistic policies against women in Afghanistan, it’s not just news or numbers. It’s our basic desires, dreams and hopes that are shattered, and we are dehumanised. It hurts. It’s awfully painful and we despair.

These limitations have increased the rates of forced marriages and domestic violence. Many of my friends are pushed to get married by their families as they don’t see any future for them. In our chat groups, everyone suffers depression and as days pass, they lose their hope to look for a better future.

I had proudly received a scholarship from a programme designed to support women to study STEM, but last October, on the day of the national university entrance exam (the Kankor), the Taliban didn’t allow women to choose STEM majors or journalism.

They said they weren’t fit for women. We started panicking, but still tried to remain hopeful – which became harder as they went on to ban schools, employment and freedom of movement, all de-facto denial of allowing girls to continue university.

Afghan refugees feeling Kabul during the Taliban’s swift takeover after withdrawal by US troops in August 2021 (Picture: Armend Nimani/AFP/Getty)

Still, all the girls I know were top of their classes as the scholarships were fully dependent on academic excellence. I saw a leader and innovator in each of them. Everyone strived for success and to change the gender gap in STEM majors in Afghanistan. We knew we lacked enough role models in this field, and we were all determined to become the ones to change that. 

Now, we are all at home without any future, like hundreds of thousands of girls who were going to universities across Afghanistan. I was going to a private university that was a women-only school. Our professors, administration team and even security staff were women.

There is no justification – based on what is claimed in the media at least [which is now controlled by the Taliban and repeats arguments against female education] – for my university to be closed. And schools in Afghanistan were always segregated. 

Segregated learning at a private university in Kabul immediately following the Taliban’s return (Picture: Aamir Qureshi/AFP/Getty)

The Taliban basically don’t believe in women’s rights, it is not in their ideology. They see us as less of a human. Anything else they say for the international media is just false excuses.

Every day we miss school feels like years, and it will be so hard to catch up if nothing is done about it. So, I demand that education institutions use technology to provide access to education to us. A quality education. Please use creative ways to do it.

Taliban cleric students attend a class of Islamic studies at a madrassa in Kandahar (Picture: Sanaullah Seiam/AFP/Getty)

And I can’t stress enough that simply opening the doors of schools is not the solution. If the Taliban reopen schools, the curriculum will be set by them. They believe that the education and training of women is a Western culture and should not be implemented. The Taliban have said they intend to make changes to the curriculum so that it conforms to their point of view and mentality.

I want to be a scientist, not study terrorism and get brainwashed by the Taliban.

So if you want to advocate for us, hear us.

We don’t want the Taliban’s schools. We want our universities back.

Today is International Day of Women and Girls in Science. This year’s theme is Innovate. Demonstrate. Elevate. Advance (IDEA) – bringing communities Forward for sustainable and equitable development

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