Photo: Kabul University

Taliban Open Medical Institutes to Women Amidst Continued Restrictions

KABUL, AFGHANISTAN – The Taliban announced on Tuesday that they have begun enrollment of female students in medical institutes in at least half a dozen provinces. Although the group has refused to remove its ban on female education and employment, they have sporadically allowed medical training of women.   

The Taliban-controlled Bakhtar News Agency announced on Tuesday, February 20, that the process of recruiting high school graduates in public health institutions in many provinces has started. Most of the provinces are around the capital Kabul including Kapisa, Parwan, Panjshir, Maidan Wardak, Ghazni, Paktika, Logar, Khost, and Paktia. Only Badakhshan and Bamyan are not in the immediate vicinity of Kabul.

It is not clear whether the initiative will cover the remaining 22 provinces.

According to the news agency, the Taliban Ministry of Public Health has sent a letter to the Directorates of Public Health in the mentioned provinces, instructing them to start the process of recruiting 12th-grade female graduates to health institutes.

The news comes amid continued restrictions on education for girls and women in Afghanistan. Since August 2021, the regime has gradually implemented a complete ban on women’s public life, barring them from accessing education, employment, entertainment, and traveling.

Last year, the Taliban prohibited female medical students from sitting for the exit exam, while their fellow male students were permitted to take the national exam across Afghanistan.

At that time, Doctors Without Borders (MSF) in Afghanistan criticized the Taliban’s decision and voiced concerns about the shortage of health workers in the country.

“We already find it challenging to fill all necessary medical positions in our facilities, including for female doctors and gynecologists, who are extremely scarce in Afghanistan. We need more female doctors, not fewer.”  

Health organizations say that the restrictions on women’s education and work have worsened the fragility of Afghanistan’s health sector, with the country failing to produce a single doctor since the Taliban takeover.

The UN has consistently warned about Afghanistan’s shortage of qualified health workers, especially females.

Kate Pond, a spokesperson for UNICEF, said, “there is a shortage of qualified health workers in Afghanistan overall, and women in particular,” noting that some people travel long distances for healthcare services.

“As a result, more than one-third of the population lack access to health facilities,” she added.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres reiterated on Tuesday that the Taliban must reverse “the outrageous ban on girls’” access to education and  employment.

“Women & girls must be able to fully & meaningfully participate in all aspects of Afghan life – from seats in classrooms to the tables where decisions are made,” Guterres said. According to a UN report, at least 1.1 million girls have been deprived of education after the Taliban’s ban on secondary schools.