SAR’s Academic Freedom Monitoring Project investigates and reports attacks on higher education with the aim of raising awareness, generating advocacy, and increasing protection for scholars, students, and academic communities. Learn more.

Date of Incident: August 17, 2021

Attack Types: Other

Institution(s):Herat University

Region & Country:Southern Asia | Afghanistan

New or Ongoing:New Incident

On August 17, 2021, Taliban soldiers prevented female students and professors from entering Herat University’s campus.

Following the United States government’s announcement that it would withdraw all American troops from Afghanistan by August 31, 2021, the Taliban, an Islamist militant group that previously ruled the country from 1996 to 2001, began taking control over the country’s provinces and eventually became de facto governing authorities of the country. On August 13, Taliban forces captured Herat, one of the country’s largest cities behind Kabul. 

Witnesses told news outlets, including The New York Times, and reported over social media Taliban soldiers stationed at the gates of Herat University refusing entry to female students and instructors who attempted to enter campus. Within weeks, the Taliban would announce a prohibition on coeducation practices, forcing male and female students into separate classrooms, a policy that many fear will severely curtail access to higher education for female students.

When the Taliban was last in power, it denied women access to education and barred them from leaving the home without male guardians, among other human rights violations. 

Scholars at Risk is concerned by a militant group denying access to a higher education institution in an apparent effort to prevent female students from accessing education and female staff from participating in higher education instruction — conduct that is expressly protected by international human rights instruments including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Authoritative powers have a responsibility to promote access to education regardless of gender, race, or religion, and should respect universities’ institutional autonomy. In addition to the harm to the immediate victims, such incidents have a chilling effect on academic freedom, institutional autonomy, and democratic society generally.