Female students barred as Taliban enforce university ban in Afghanistan

Taliban security forces in the Afghan capital on Wednesday imposed a ban on higher education for women by blocking their access to universities, with video obtained by The Associated Press showing women crying and comforting each other outside a university campus in Kabul.

The country’s Taliban leaders a day earlier ordered women nationwide to stop attending private and public universities effective immediately and until further notice. The Taliban-led administration has not given a reason for the ban or reacted to the harsh and swift global condemnation.

Journalists saw Taliban forces outside four Kabul universities on Wednesday. The forces prevented some women from entering, while allowing others to enter and complete their work. They also tried to prevent any photography, filming and protests.

Rahimullah Nadeem, a spokesman for Kabul University, confirmed that classes for female students had been suspended. He said some women were allowed to enter the campus for bureaucratic and administrative reasons and that four graduation ceremonies were held on Wednesday.

Taliban fighters stand guard at the entrance gate of a university in Jalalabad on December 21, 2022.
Taliban fighters stand guard at the entrance gate of a university in Jalalabad on Wednesday.AFP – Getty Images

Members of an activist group called Unity and Solidarity of Afghanistan Women gathered outside the private Edrak University in Kabul on Wednesday morning, chanting Dari slogans.

“Don’t make education politics!” they said. “Once again the university is off limits to women, we don’t want to be wiped out!”

Despite initially promising a more moderate rule that respects the rights of women and minorities, the Taliban have widely implemented their interpretation of Islamic law, or Sharia, since seizing power in August 2021.

They have banned girls from middle and high school, barred women from most fields of employment, and ordered them to wear head-to-toe clothing in public. Also, women are banned from parks and gyms.

A letter shared by Ministry of Higher Education spokesman Ziaullah Hashmi called on private and public universities to implement the ban as soon as possible and to inform the ministry once it takes effect.

The move is sure to hurt the Taliban’s efforts to win international recognition for their government and aid from potential donors at a time when Afghanistan is mired in a worsening humanitarian crisis. The international community has urged Taliban leaders to reopen schools and give women their right in public space.

Men study at the university in a classroom with a curtain separating men and women in Kandahar province on December 21, 2022.
Men attend university in a classroom with a curtain separating men and women in Kandahar province on Wednesday.AFP – Getty Images

Qatar and Pakistan, both Muslim countries, expressed their dismay at the university ban and asked the authorities to reconsider their decision.

Qatar played a key role in facilitating the negotiations that led to the withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan last year. He called on the “Afghan caretaker government” to review the ban in line with Islamic teachings on women’s education.

Neighboring Pakistan said its position on women’s education was “clear and consistent”.

Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken said late Tuesday that no other country in the world prohibits women and girls from receiving an education.

“The Taliban cannot expect to be a legitimate member of the international community until the rights of everyone in Afghanistan are respected,” he warned. “This decision will have consequences for the Taliban.”

Afghan political analyst Ahmad Saeedi said the latest decision by Taliban authorities may have closed the door to gaining international acceptance.

“The issue of recognition is over,” he said. “People are now trying to find an alternative. People have tried to interact more, but they (the Taliban) don’t let people talk to them about recognition.”

Saeedi said he believes most Afghans favor female education because they consider learning to be a religious command contained in the Koran.

He said the decision to bar women from universities was likely made by a handful of senior Taliban figures, including leader Hibatullah Akhunzada, who is based in the southwestern city of Kandahar, the birthplace of the Taliban movement.

He said the main center of power was in Kandahar, not the Taliban-led government in Kabul, even though the ministers of justice, higher education and so-called “virtue and vice” would also have been involved in the decision to ban women from universities. .

UN experts said last month that the Taliban’s treatment of women and girls in Afghanistan may amount to a crime against humanity and should be investigated and prosecuted under international law.

They said the Taliban’s actions against women deepened existing rights abuses – already the “most draconian worldwide” – and could amount to gender-based persecution, a crime against humanity.

Taliban authorities rejected the claim.

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