Afghanistan’s hardline Taliban rulers have banned women from attending universities, a decision that engendered massive outcry on social media from Afghan citizens, international rights groups and activists. The ban restricts women’s education – girls have been already banned from secondary schools since the Taliban swept into power last year.
Afghanistan’s higher education minister announced the decision on Tuesday, sparking international condemnation and despair among the young people of the country.
Some women held protests in Kabul against this decision, but they were quickly dispersed by the Taliban fighters.
The United Nations and several other countries condemned the incidents, which restrict Afghanistan’s women from acquiring higher education. Tuesday’s sudden announcement takes Afghanistan back to the first period of Taliban rule in the country when women’s freedom and education were practically non-existent.
The UN’s Special Rapporteur to Afghanistan said the decision was “a new low further violating the right to equal education and deepens the erasure of women from Afghan society.” He warned that this decision would have “consequences for the Taliban.”
The United States also lambasted the Afghan Taliban for this decision. “The Taliban cannot expect to be a legitimate member of the international community until they respect the rights of all in Afghanistan,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement.
Afghanistan has been in turmoil since the Taliban takeover in August last year. It all began with the US withdrawal which rendered President Ashraf Ghani’s regime unstable. Emboldened by this, the Taliban launched a country-wide offensive and reached Kabul at lightning speed. Ashraf Ghani was forced to flee the country and the Taliban assumed power.
The Taliban, who advocate for the harsh sharia rule, had promised a softer rule after seizing power. However, they continue to roll back on women’s rights and freedoms in the country.
Taliban leader Hibatullah Akhundzada and his close circle are against modern education, especially women’s education. There have been reports of opposition from moderate officials, creating tensions and friction among the Taliban leadership.
Afghanistan’s education ministry had its scholars evaluate the curriculum and environment of the universities and decided that attendance for girls would be suspended “until a suitable environment” was provided. The ministry added that the situation would soon be resolved and the citizens should worry.
But the citizens do worry because, in March, the Taliban promised to re-open some girls’ high schools, but then cancelled the move on the day they were due to return. Once sealed, this decision is unlikely to be overturned. Women are also banned from gyms, parks, and public baths. They can’t leave the house or travel without a male relative accompanying them.