Afghanistan’s Taliban rulers have banned university education for women nationwide, provoking condemnation from the United States and the United Nations over another assault on human rights.
Despite promising a softer rule when they seized power last year, the Taliban have ratcheted up restrictions on all aspects of women’s lives, ignoring international outrage.
BREAKING: The Taliban have banned women from universities.
This is a shameful decision that violates the right to education for women and girls in Afghanistan. The Taliban are making it clear every day that they don't respect the fundamental rights of Afghans, especially women. pic.twitter.com/Ydf13rvsbF
— Human Rights Watch (@hrw) December 20, 2022
“You all are informed to immediately implement the mentioned order of suspending education of females until further notice,” Minister for Higher Education Neda Mohammad Nadeem said in a letter issued to all government and private universities.
The spokesman for the ministry, Ziaullah Hashimi, who tweeted the letter, confirmed the order in a text message to AFP.
Washington condemned the decision “in the strongest terms.”
“The Taliban cannot expect to be a legitimate member of the international community until they respect the rights of all in Afghanistan. This decision will come with consequences for the Taliban,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement.
“No country can thrive when half of its population is held back.”
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres was “deeply alarmed” by the ban, his spokesman said Tuesday.
“The secretary-general reiterates that the denial of education not only violates the equal rights of women and girls, but will have a devastating impact on the country’s future,” Stephane Dujarric said in a statement.
The ban on higher education comes less than three months after thousands of girls and women sat for university entrance exams across the country, with many aspiring to choose teaching and medicine as future careers.
The universities are currently on winter break and due to reopen in March.
After the takeover of the country by the Taliban, universities were forced to implement new rules including gender-segregated classrooms and entrances, while women were only permitted to be taught by women professors or old men.
Most teenage girls across the country have already been banned from secondary school education, severely limiting university intake.
Journalism student Madina, who wanted only her first name published, struggled to comprehend the weight of Tuesday’s order.
“I have nothing to say. Not only me but all my friends have no words to express our feelings,” the 18-year-old told AFP in Kabul.
“Everyone is thinking about the unknown future ahead of them. They buried our dreams.”
The country was returning to “dark days”, added medicine student Rhea in the capital, who asked that her name be changed.
“When we were hoping to make progress, they are removing us from society,” the 26-year-old said.
– ‘A fundamental human right’ –
The Taliban adheres to an austere version of Islam, with the movement’s supreme leader Hibatullah Akhundzada and his inner circle of Afghan clerics against modern education, especially for girls and women.
But they are at odds with many officials in Kabul and among their rank and file, who had hoped girls would be allowed to continue learning following the takeover.
“There are serious differences in the Taliban ranks on girls’ education, and the latest decision will increase these differences,” a Taliban commander based in northwest Pakistan told AFP on condition of anonymity.
In a cruel U-turn, the Taliban in March blocked girls from returning to secondary schools on the morning they were supposed to reopen.