Photo: Ali Khara/Reuters

Denied Education: Taliban university closures leave female students in mental distress

By Shukria Sequi | Translated by Besmellah Zahidi

As of December 20, 2022, the Taliban’s Ministry of Higher Education has suspended the operations of universities for female students in Afghanistan. Despite hopes of reopening at the start of the academic year, female students continue to suffer from a sense of disappointment and psychological distress. 

“When the Taliban came, I had to quit university, and now I’m at home feeling terrible because I have no drive, no goals, and I’m dealing with various mental health problems,” Seweta Mohammadi, a second-year dental student at Ghalib University in western Herat province, laments. “Being denied education is the most difficult experience I’ve faced in my life, and I’m under immense pressure and fear for my future,” she adds.

For some female students, the challenge of continuing their education was also met with familial opposition. Samira Salehi is among those determined girls who fought against their families’ opposition to continue their education. 

However, now she finds herself in a state of uncertainty and confusion. As a second-year student at the Faculty of Law and Political Science in Herat Province, she expresses, “These days and nights are tough for me, and I can’t sleep at all. I get agitated and nervous with the slightest thing, losing my patience, and peace. I’m well aware that these nervous pressures resulting from the university’s closure are affecting not only me but also thousands of girls who are clueless about their future.”

The mental anguish caused by university closures has led some students to seek psychotherapy. Sahar Sadeghi, a second-year dentistry student at Herat Public University, expressed her struggles during the closure of the university. She said, “I have been grappling with excruciating mental problems ever since the university has been closed. Every night, I see the nightmare of the university being blocked, and the psychological pressures have disrupted my daily life, ultimately leading me to seek help at a psychotherapy center.”

An anonymous source from the mental health department of Herat Province stated, “Regrettably, there has been a noticeable rise in the number of female students who seek our services in recent years, and this trend is continuing. Due to the limitations imposed on female students, we now receive ten to fifteen female students per day. These students suffer from adjustment disorders, hopelessness, and depression.”

Clinical psychologist, Fahima Alami.

Fahima Alami, a clinical psychologist, expressed her concerns over the mental and emotional state of girls after the closure of universities and schools. She believes that mental and psychological problems are often hidden and left untreated, causing a buildup of emotional pressure and ultimately leading to suffering. According to Ms. Alami, early treatment is crucial and families should provide support to prevent any delay in the treatment process, which could have painful consequences for the girls and society as a whole in the future.

Following the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan in August 2021, not only were universities shuttered, but women were also stripped of their fundamental human rights. As a result, women throughout Afghanistan are experiencing significant mental and emotional distress. They are currently waiting in anticipation for clarity regarding their future.