Taliban slammed for barring women from Afghanistan universities (updated)

KABUL, 21 Dec 2022:

The ruling Taliban has banned women from attending university in Afghanistan, according to an order issued yesterday.

The decree is the latest measure by the regime targeting women and girls – who have already been banned from secondary education since the fundamentalists returned to power in August 2021.

The move aimed at public and private universities will come into force with “immediate effect,” according to a letter from the Ministry of Higher Education published by Afghan media.

After regaining power, the Islamist fundamentalists initially insisted that women’s rights would not be hindered – before barring girls over the age of 12 from attending school earlier this year.

Yesterday’s move has drawn strong condemnation from the international community, with the UN accusing the Taliban of “another broken promise”.

“It’s another very troubling move and it’s difficult to imagine how the country can develop, deal with all of the challenges that it has, without active participation of women and the education of women,” UN spokesperson Stephane Dujarric told a press conference.

“The secretary-general (Antonio Guterres) is deeply alarmed by news reports that the Taliban have suspended access to universities to women and girls,” she added, while calling for “de facto authorities to ensure equal access to education at all levels for women and girls.”

“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,” she said in a statement.

Criticism poured in from international bodies and nonprofits, along with the Afghan people, today over the Taliban government’s decision to ban access to higher education for girls in Afghanistan.

The nonprofit Human Rights Watch, in a Twitter post, said the decision to ban females from university violated “the right to education for women and girls in Afghanistan.”

UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Afghanistan, Richard Bennett, tweeted the latest order “marks a new low further violating the right to equal education & deepens the erasure of women from #Afghan society” and called on the Taliban to “reverse it immediately.”

Meanwhile, Naeem Wardak – a Taliban delegation member in Qatar – wrote on his official Twitter account that the ban on females in universities was only “temporary”.

The Taliban order, which has also been widely criticised within the country, comes barely two months after thousands of young students across the country appeared in the university entrance exams.

Now thousands of Afghan girls across the country stand to lose out on the opportunity for higher learning even if they clear the exams.

Zakia Kawiyan, a journalist and social worker, said since the announcement, his daughter has been crying and behaving like “an addict.”

“What kind of parents are we who sit silently and watch the gradual death of our children,” he remarked.

“I went to university, the boys were allowed to enter to the university but the Taliban security forces member prevented me from entering to the university, this is the world we live in it,” a student by the name of Shabana posted on social media.

Several others criticised the move to ban women’s education on religious grounds – which the Taliban use to justify their actions – claiming Islam has given the right to both men and women to get educated.

“There is no single and small indication for banning female education in Islam, while there is a lot of clear and strong evidence that men and women both should study,” said a university student, who identified herself as Nooriam.

The order is the latest in a series of restrictions on women by fundamentalists since coming to power, such as banning teenage girls from attending school, segregation of men and women in public places, making it mandatory for women to wear the veil in public and be accompanied by a male relative on long journeys.

Even though the fundamentalists promised to respect women’s rights in order to gain international recognition, the reality of women in Afghanistan is increasingly similar to the time under the previous Taliban regime (1996-2001), when they were totally excluded from public life without any possibility to study or work.

The announcement by the Taliban came just as the UN Security Council was meeting to discuss the situation in Afghanistan.

The UN envoy to that country, Roza Otunbayeva, again condemned the close of secondary schools for girls – a move which she said would mean there would be no more female students eligible for university within two years.

The decision is “extremely unpopular among Afghans and even within the Taliban leadership,” she said, adding that “as long as girls remain excluded from school and the de facto authorities continue to disregard other stated concerns of the international community, we remain at something of an impasse.”