A Taliban decision to indefinitely bar all women from universities in Afghanistan may have come as a shock to some in the higher education sector, but others had been preparing for the moment for weeks.
In a statement sent out to all public and private universities, acting Taliban minister of higher education Maulvi Nida Mohammad Nadimsaid instructed institutions to enforce the order, saying the ban would continue until "further notice”.
Armed vehicles were reportedly placed outside many universities in Kabul and other large cities of Afghanistan to impose the ban. In other provincial universities, women were sent back home in tears by Taliban and university officials.
"In our hearts, we knew this would happen, but it was extremely humiliating and hurtful the way they banned us from our campuses," one of the female students told The National, holding back tears.
Sporadic protests were also reported across several provinces. While many professors took to social media to announce their resignations in protest, in the south east province of Nangarhar, a classroom full of male students at one of the universities reprotedly walked out of the examination hall in solidarity with their female classmates who were refused entry to the exams.
One university professor has been furiously working to ensure his female students were awarded their degrees before the ban was announced.
“Almost a month ago, I had this feeling while interacting with others at the university. The majority of my students are women, and we are at the end of the semester, so I pushed them to submit their assignments and final thesis just in case something like this happens,” the academic, who asked to be identified only as Prof Ahmadi for fear of Taliban persecution, told The National.
He then set aside all his work to grade the papers overnight and encourage corrections to be made.
“I was worried they might not graduate so I pushed my department and informed all other departments to push their assignment and final thesis including their seminars, fearing this very scenario,” he said of the desperate rush of the past few weeks.
Prof Ahmadi said he also advised male students to allow their female classmates to present their papers before their own, a gesture that helped many students to complete their coursework.
“All my female students will be graduating despite the ban,” he said, even if their career prospects under Taliban are severely restricted.
Not all students were able to benefit from actions such as Prof Ahmadi's.
“I can’t believe this is happening. I am in the final semester and we had exams scheduled in the coming weeks. Now I am not sure of anything in my future,” said Maryam, a student who did not wish to reveal her full name.
Maryam was studying law when the Taliban seized Afghanistan, and despite women being exclused from legal careers, she had hoped to be able to make a difference with her degree. “This was my only hope in all the darkness, and it has been taken,” she said, uncertain of what the future holds.
The Taliban had already banned high school education for girls after taking over the country last year. They have since imposed restrictions on women’s freedoms, rights and movements. The UN said Tuesday's decision "effectively puts in place an indefinite ban for any woman or girl over the age of 12 receiving an education in the country".
There are fears that the ban will soon extend to female professors.
“The Taliban is facing pressure from internal actors who are against education, if they don’t fight it, not only will our girls remain out of the university, but also women lecturers will not be allowed in,” Prof Ahmadi said.
When Prof Ahmadi pushed up the deadline for submissions, many students were upset at his decision, but now that it is formally announced, his inbox is flooded with emotional messages from his students, thanking him for his foresight.
"I feel terrible about the situation many of my students are in, but I am a bit relieved for the few dozen who will graduate this year,” he said.