The future of brother and sister was separated after the Taliban University was banned

Marwa was just months away from becoming the first woman in her Afghan family to attend university – instead she will have to watch her brother leave without her.

In Taliban-controlled Afghanistan, where they have been continuously deprived of their freedoms for the past year, women are now banned from attending universities.

“Had they ordered the beheading of women, even that would have been better than this ban,” Marwa told AFP at her family’s home in Kabul.

“If we were so unlucky, I wish we hadn’t been born at all. I am sorry for my existence in the world.

“We are treated worse than animals. Animals can go anywhere on their own, but we girls don’t even have the right to leave our homes.”

The 19-year-old recently passed an entrance exam to begin nursing studies at a medical university in the Afghan capital from March.

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She was excited to visit campus every day with her brother Hamid.

But now their future has been torn apart.

“I wanted my sister to achieve her goals with me – to be successful and to move forward,” said Hamid, 20, a business administration student at a Kabul college.

“Despite some problems, she studied up to the 12th grade, but what can we say now?”

– Taliban ban: dreams destroyed –

The ban by the hard-line Islamist government that came to power in August last year has sparked outrage around the world, including in Muslim nations who saw it as anti-Islam.

Neda Mohammad Nadeem, the Taliban Minister of Higher Education, claimed that female students flouted a strict dress code and the requirement that they be accompanied by a male relative on campus.

But the reality, according to some Taliban officials, is that the hard-line clerics who advise the movement’s supreme leader, Hibatullah Akhundzada, remain deeply skeptical about modern education for women.

Girls have also been excluded from secondary schools in most parts of the country.

Women have been slowly being pushed out of public life in recent months, squeezed out of government jobs or being paid a fraction of their former wages to stay at home.

They are also not allowed to travel without a male relative and must cover themselves in public. Women are prohibited from visiting parks, fairs, gyms and public baths.

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Marwa and Hamid come from an impoverished family, but their parents had supported their pursuit of higher education.

With dreams of becoming a midwife, Marwa had planned to visit remote areas of Afghanistan where women still do not receive health care.

“I wanted to minister to women in distant places so that we would never witness the loss of a mother’s life during childbirth,” she said.

Instead, she now stays at home to teach her six younger siblings while her father, the only breadwinner in the family, earns money selling vegetables.

– History that repeats itself –

Minister Nadeem insists female students behaved in a way that insulted Islamic principles and Afghan culture.

“They dressed like they were going to a wedding. The girls who came to the universities from their homes also didn’t follow the hijab instructions,” he said in an interview on state television.

But Hamid firmly rejected the justification for the ban.

“When universities were opened under the Taliban, different days were set for boys and girls,” he said.

“They (girls) were not allowed to enter unless they wore a mask and hijab. Then how can they (the Taliban) say that they were without hijab?”

After the Taliban took power, universities were forced to introduce new rules, including gender-segregated classrooms and entrances, while women could only be taught by same-sex professors or old men.

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Marwa’s mother, holding her newborn baby, said she felt history repeating itself.

Two decades ago, between 1996 and 2001, she had to abandon her studies during the first Taliban regime.

“I am happy that my son is able to pursue his goals, but I am also heartbroken that my daughter is not able to do the same,” said Zainab, 40.

“If my daughter doesn’t achieve her goals, she will have a miserable future like mine.”

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