Afghan capital university unlikely host for women's studies program

Fri Oct 23, 2015 3:02am EDT
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By Krista Mahr and Aimal Yaqubi

KABUL (Reuters) - A group of Afghan students gathered on the leafy campus of Kabul University this week to embark on an unlikely course - the country's first Master's degree in gender and women's studies.

Advances made for women since U.S.-led troops ousted the Islamist Taliban in 2001 are held up as one of the wins of the war, but women are still regularly sidelined from political life and subject to violence in public and at home.

Many worry that things could get worse as security deteriorates around the country, a fear buttressed by reports of abuse against women in Kunduz after the Taliban briefly took control of the northern city last month.

"There's been a lot of change for women, but it's not enough," said Zheela Rafhat, a high school teacher and one of 28 students enrolled on the two-year course, which will tackle subjects like gender and violence. "It's better in the capital than in rural areas where there's been a lot of fighting."

Photographs of Kabul from the 1960s and 70s show a city where Afghan women strolled the streets in miniskirts and heels, a scene that had disappeared by the time the Taliban came to power in 1996.

Under the hardline group's interpretation of Islam, women and girls were banned from public life, including going to school and working, and had to wear a full-body burqa when venturing outside.

Millions of girls have gone back to school in the last 14 years, but access to higher education has been limited.

Teaching women's studies at graduate level should help spread awareness and send people into the workforce who can promote equality, the faculty and students said. Eighteen women and ten men have enrolled in the program.   Continued...

An Afghan woman speaks as they attend a class of the gender and women's studies masters program in Kabul University, Afghanistan October 19, 2015.  REUTERS/Mohammad Ismail