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The future of women's education in Afghanistan remains uncertain

LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

Despite the promises the Taliban made when it took over Afghanistan more than a month ago, many women have been told they can't return to work, and girls can't go to school past the sixth grade. The Taliban's minister of higher education has already made this clear. Female students may only return to Kabul University when they can study in areas segregated from male students and professors.

Zakia Menhas is a medical student at the university, and she joins us now. Welcome.

ZAKIA MENHAS: Thank you.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So you can't return to school until the Taliban provides what they say is an Islamic environment. Have they explained what that means?

MENHAS: Actually, what they explained for us was not what the real Islam says. So they are just forcing rules that are not mentioned in Islam in any Islamic book. And they are trying to make us lose hope and just give up on going to school and universities.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So the Taliban have changed their story over time about this. But what they say is they want to implement segregated classrooms being taught by other women. Have they talked about how they could implement that? I mean, is that even feasible?

MENHAS: In my point of view, I think it's impossible. And they haven't searched for the female professors. And actually, if I just talk about my university, there were just three female teachers. All my teachers were male. For medical, it is even much harder. If we have such females in our country, they won't appear because they can't feel confident to just teach in such condition.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Kabul University is a public school. Are there any options for private universities?

MENHAS: One of my private university friends told me that she's going to university. But the way that she's going and just sitting there is not secure for her.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Sorry, can you just tell me what she means by that?

MENHAS: Before, like, we were so confident when we were out. Whenever we had a problem in one of our subjects or in anything, we were able to just go to our friend, if that is male or female. We were able to ask him or her about that question. But now it's all, like, weird. If you just talk to a male friend, they will just harass you, or somehow they will just punish you.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: When you say they, do you mean the Taliban? Or do you mean...

MENHAS: Yeah, the Taliban, because they are just taking the control of all the university. They are everywhere. Everywhere is flooded with the Taliban. When we are just afraid from very long distance, how can we feel secure when they are just near us?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Have you spoken to any of your fellow students? I mean, what are they saying?

MENHAS: We really - just fed up - and it is really devastating for us. Like, we had hopes. We had dreams to chase. And now it is just a dark place. And we cannot find that light. And we are just broken.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: What do you think you're going to do?

MENHAS: It's all, like - I don't know. It's all just...

GARCIA-NAVARRO: It's OK.

MENHAS: They just destroyed - like, there's no hope. So for now the only thing that I can think about is, like, just going abroad and going out and study. But for now it's just - and we can say that it's impossible to just think about whatever we planned for our future.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: The prospect of having to leave the country must be a very difficult one. What is your family saying about what is happening?

MENHAS: As my family already experienced these days before - the elders - my parents and my siblings - are trying to give us - and just motivate us to just not giving up because the only dream for our family was to study and to go out and work.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: What do you think the international community should do, can do to maybe help the situation?

MENHAS: We know that there are laws about the human rights and all the women rights. So we want them to just make Taliban have those rules as their main rules and just show them that we girls and women have the right to go out and work and study.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That is Zakia Menhas. She is a medical student in Kabul who is no longer allowed to study at her university. Thank you very much.

MENHAS: Thank you.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: We reached out to the Taliban to see if they had a timeline for when girls and women could go back to school. Press officer Bilal Karimi told us that solving these issues within the required framework is a logistical issue, so we can't say exactly when it will be solved. But God willing, it will be solved within the near future.

(SOUNDBITE OF BENN JORDAN'S "I CAN FEEL IT HUMMING") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.