These Afghan women are risking their lives to protest against the Taliban's university ban – ABC News

These Afghan women are risking their lives to protest against the Taliban's university ban
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When the Taliban announced that women could no longer go to university, Basira responded the way she has every time another right gets stripped away from her: she started protesting on the streets of Kabul.
A small group of young women marched with Basira while chanting: "We will beat the oppression, we will prevail."
Most have their faces covered in keeping with Taliban rules, so they can't be identified, while others are just wearing a headscarf — defiant and ready for their voices to be heard.
But it doesn't take long for sirens to start blaring from a Taliban car following the women.
"Our protest plan was for the Taliban to open the university, but the Taliban were against this protest and arrested the girls and tortured most of them with handcuffs and whips," Basira told the ABC.
"I managed to escape with some of the women, but our mental and physical condition is not good.
"Currently, the majority of protesters are in safe places and most have disappeared."
Across Kabul, other women took to safe houses and secret schools to stage similar protests, inviting select media to spread their message across the world.
Those who took to the streets were reportedly detained by the Taliban and later released, but one protester's family has told local media that she is still missing.
Protesters risk beatings and arrest, so many are forced to do it in hiding, while others have stopped demonstrating altogether.
In Afghanistan, a whisper network of teachers, parents and community leaders is funnelling girls to secret schools.
When the Taliban returned to power last year, it made a promise in a bid to keep up relations with the international community to allow women to exercise their rights under Sharia law, including attending work and study.
Since then, women and girls have been progressively restricted from public life. They are banned from high schools, parks, gyms, and most jobs outside their homes, and they must cover their faces outside.
Last Tuesday, in the middle of the semester, the Taliban's higher education minister announced that women would also be banned from universities.
The ban came into action so immediately that some medical students were sitting their exams when they were told to leave the campus.
The Taliban has said it will evaluate the university curriculum and suspend attendance until "a suitable environment" is provided, while the minister said women were banned because they didn't follow the dress code or have a legitimate companion in their dormitories.
"I have a question for [the Taliban] saying that schools and university is against Islam and Afghan values — what is your argument or reason for announcing that girls shouldn't get an education?" second-year literature student Azada said.
"Because Islam says education is mandatory for men and women, Islam encourages men and women to do education, so we want to know which Islamic centre the Taliban are getting orders from."
Protesters say the Taliban's interpretation of Sharia law is deliberately skewed to "impose a fake religion on Afghan women". 
"The only goal of the Taliban is to wipe out women from this earth. Every day the cage becomes narrower and life becomes more difficult," Basira said.
The head of the US mission in Afghanistan has called on the country's men to protest with the women.
"Calling on Afghan men to stand up with Afghan women. Now is the time. What are you waiting for?" Charge d'Affaires Karen Decker tweeted this week.
Some men have acted in solidarity – dozens of male professors have resigned, while other male students have refused to sit their exams in protest against the ban.
The international community has broadly condemned restrictions on women, having previously cut off aid and refused to formally recognise the Taliban as a legitimate government, but these measures appear to have had little effect on the militant group's decisions.
A magnitude-6.1 earthquake in remote Afghanistan exacerbates a tricky ethical dilemma for Australia and other like-minded nations.
Afghanistan has been crippled by the loss of foreign aid, with the economy now verging on collapse. 
The banking system has been largely unable to operate since the Taliban takeover, with photos circulating earlier this month appearing to show piles of cash amounting to millions of dollars arriving at Kabul airport.
The economic collapse has plunged the nation into one of the world's most urgent humanitarian crises.
People are unable to receive funds from family outside Afghanistan, and it is difficult to access money from ATMs or banks, with long wait times and withdrawal limits.
There are also fears of a looming mental health catastrophe as girls and women are cut off from their communities at school and work.
Women say their worst fears are being realised, and they expect things will only get worse.
"It is difficult for someone who has lost everything to express their feelings, I am sad and shocked," second year Kabul university medical student Sytara said.
"I don't know how many more restrictions they will impose on us, they have already imposed all the possible inhuman restrictions on us.
"I am afraid one day the Taliban might announce that due to a lack of oxygen in Afghanistan, [only] men should breathe, and women should not."
Human rights groups are again urging countries to increase their refugee intake from Afghanistan, arguing the latest university ban for women is evidence the Taliban will not change.
In March, the Australian government announced it would provide 31,500 places for Afghan nationals through the humanitarian and family visa programs.
But officials are still processing applications due to overwhelming demand. 
In a joint statement with a series of governments, including Canada, France, and Germany, Australia's Foreign Minister Penny Wong condemned the university ban. 
"We stand with all Afghans in their demand to exercise their human rights consistent with Afghanistan's obligations under international law," the statement says. 
"With these moves, the Taliban are further isolating themselves from the Afghan population and the international community. 
"We urge the Taliban to immediately abandon the new oppressive measures with respect to university education for women and girls and to, without delay, reverse the existing decision to prohibit girls' access to secondary school."

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