Nangarhar University is the second-largest university in Afghanistan, with more than three thousand students.
Last month, a women’s only hostel was built on campus to increase the number of female students.
Mudassar Shah hears how the move is set to boost the number of women graduates.
It’s Saturday here in Afghanistan and the first working day of the week.
Two young women and a man just passed me here in the bazaar in Nangarhar, in the country’s east.
It’s the culture in Afghanistan that women do not leave their houses without a male family member.
Idrees Ahmad, 24, is accompanying his two sisters to this three-story orange building – the new women’s hostel at Nangarhar University. The building is three stories high, has 130 rooms and can accommodate 1,200 female students.
Idrees says he is determined to support his sisters to continue their studies.
“Men say that women are supposed to remain inside their houses, so the hostel is just like a house for my sisters,” he says, “They can carry on with their studies without giving our relatives a chance to blame them for going out of the houses on a daily basis for university.”
Idrees is responsible for taking his sisters back and forth from the university on the last weekend of every month.
As Taliban militants have a stronghold in most remote areas in eastern Afghanistan, the hostel is a ray of hope for young women in Nangarhar, like Idrees’ sisters, Shughla and Arzo.
Shughla Ahmad has now resumed her studies after she forced to take a break because her brother could not take her to university every day. She has only been in the hostel for a few months, but says it has changed her life.
“I have met several other girls from different remote areas and have learned how difficult it is to be a woman in a backward area,” she says, “Living in the hostel is a unique experience. I feel free to live my life according to our culture and religion, and it is the first time in my life that I have experienced such feelings.”
While students like Shughla are rejoicing, not everyone in the community agrees.
Local resident Torab Gul is strongly against the women’s hostel.
"When men and women mix in society, vulgarity increases and it will be hard for women to adjust to family culture and tradition if they live outside the family structure,” argues Torab, “I strongly oppose it.”
But for 21-year-old Shugala, living in the hostel is a dream come true. She never thought she would be able to continue her studies in zoology. Neither did her sister Arzo, who studies Pashto literature.
Now Shugla hopes to graduate and work to improve the education of women.
“Education is the only way for women in our area to change their lives and become powerful,” says Shugla, “Most of the girls are celebrating the construction of the hostel, which might be nothing in other parts of the world, but can change the lives of the girl here.”
Construction of the women’s hostel cost US$2.5 million and was funded by the Ministry of Narcotics and Drug Control. The minister is a woman, Salamat Azimi, who saw the importance of funding the facility.
Since the hostel opened last month, the university says the admission of women students has increased by twenty percent.
Now the government is finally taking the right steps to promote the education of Afghan women, says local elder Saida Jan, whose daughter stays at the hostel.
“The construction of the new hostel will encourage parents to allow their daughters to enroll in higher studies,” said Jan.
Young Afghan women in the east now have a supported learning environment, says Saida.
“The government,” he says, “has done something wonderful for girls after such a long time.”