KABUL -- Female university students across Afghanistan were in disbelief on Wednesday (December 21) after they were barred from studying and condemned to a life of feeling "like caged birds".
In Kabul, home to the country's largest universities, students gathered outside campuses dressed in black cloaks and tight headscarves and sought consolation from friends and family as they digested news of the university ban.
"We all felt like caged birds, we hugged each other, screamed, and cried, 'Why is this happening to us?'" Amini, a 23-year-old nursing student in Kunduz, told AFP.
She was with her three sisters –- two already barred from secondary school and another studying for a degree –- when social media exploded with the news of the late-night order.
Faculties across the country were already closed for the winter break, but students had been able to access campuses for exams or to study in libraries.
'No one will listen'
Some women had not been aware of the exclusion until the morning, a guard told AFP.
"My sister is studying computer science... I didn't inform her last night. I knew she would be traumatised," said a young male law student in Kabul, who asked not to be named for fear of reprisals.
"It really expresses illiteracy and poor knowledge of Islam and human rights. If the situation continues like this, the future will be worse. Everyone is scared."
In Jalalabad, Nangarhar province, some male students walked out of their exams in protest against the decision.
The restrictions on women have multiplied in recent months. They are banned from most government jobs or are paid a pittance to stay at home, not authorised to travel alone outside their city and are excluded from parks and gardens.
"We have no power to do anything, and there is no one to listen to us," said one 29-year-old, who is doing a master's degree in Pashtu literature in Kabul.
"We can't protest; we are hopeless. In every aspect of life, we are doomed," she told AFP.
"We don't have jobs, we can't go anywhere, and we can't leave the country. We have lost everything."
German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock Wednesday said that she would put the educational ban on Afghan women on the agenda of the G7 club of wealthy nations, in which Germany currently holds the presidency.