Taliban stop women scholars from studying in Dubai

Taliban rulers have prevented women scholarship recipients from flying to the United Arab Emirates to continue their studies. Their sponsor, a businessman from Dubai, is not giving up.

Representative image of female students in Afghanistan (Photo: National Herald Archives)
Representative image of female students in Afghanistan (Photo: National Herald Archives)


Khalaf Ahmad Al Habtoor is a successful Dubai businessman who has granted scholarships to some 100 Afghan women to continue their studies in the United Arab Emirates. However, the Taliban have barred women in Afghanistan from attending university.

Some scholarship recipients planned to fly from Kabul to Dubai last week to study abroad, where Al Habtoor would have welcomed them. But the Taliban refused to allow the young women to leave shortly before their scheduled departure.

"The fact that the Taliban prevented their departure caught us completely off guard," Al Habtoor told DW. "We were shocked because we diligently arranged all the necessary approvals with the help of Dubai's local authorities, including the foreign affairs office, immigration, and police, who assisted us. Everyone collaborated to facilitate the entire process, and everything was ready."

The Dubai billionaire, who founded the successful conglomerate Al Habtoor Group, took to X, formerly known as Twitter, to share a voice message sent by one of the women barred from flying to Dubai. In her message, the woman says she was escorted by a male, a requirement since December 2021 when the Taliban adopted a law whereby Afghan women need a male guardian, like a husband or close relative, to travel further than 75 kilometers (46 miles) or leave the country.

Amnesty International decries crackdown on women's rights

After two decades, the Taliban returned to power in August 2021. Despite initial promises to respect women's rights under Sharia, or Islamic law, the Taliban have enacted a series of laws that drastically restrict the rights of women and girls. Women have been pushed out of public life, excluded from educational institutions and the labor market, and their freedom of movement is severely restricted.

The Taliban are systematically disenfranchising Afghan women, said human rights organization Amnesty International, which can be considered a crime against humanity. Reports seen by Amnesty International show the Taliban are also explicitly targeting female human rights defenders, activists, former local helpers, former government employees and members of ethnic and religious minorities.

Amnesty International's latest report on the country says arbitrary arrests, disappearances, torture and extrajudicial executions have been commonplace in many places of Afghanistan for the past two years.

Afghan women call for international pressure on Taliban

"The world is just looking on," Zahra Rajabi, a young Afghan women banned from continuing her studies, told DW. "We are tired of people saying they regret seeing these circumstances. Surely, the international community can take a stand and make sure these circumstances change."

Rajabi hopes pressure from the international community will force the Taliban to revise their decision and reopen secondary schools and universities for women.

Many women in Rajabi's situation seek opportunities to travel and study abroad. Not long ago, three female students who received a scholarship from Al Habtoor arrived in Dubai on August 24.

"Communication and negotiations are underway, but not through us," said the influential businessman, who also wants to bring all the other female scholarship recipients to Dubai. "We are hoping to observe the outcomes in the near future, and I am confident that it will be solved soon."

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Published: 01 Sep 2023, 8:58 AM