Taliban bans all women from university in Afghanistan

Higher education institutions told to suspend access to women until further notice

Andy Gregory
Tuesday 20 December 2022 18:48 GMT
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Taliban treatment of women may amount to crime against humanity, says UN

The Taliban has banned all female students from universities in Afghanistan.

Following a meeting of the Taliban government, universities were instructed in a letter – confirmed by the regime’s higher education ministry – to suspend female students’ access immediately until further notice, in accordance with a cabinet decision.

The Taliban reassumed control of Kabul last August, as western forces brought a hasty end to their decades-long presence in the South Asian country.

Returning to power after 20 years, the hardline clerical regime sought to insist that it would take a softer and more modernised approach to women’s rights and other areas of key concern to Afghanistan’s citizens and the international community, which has not officially recognised the de facto administration.

A change in policies on women’s education is among the key demands by foreign governments, including the United States, in order for them to consider formally recognising the Taliban-run administration, which is also subject to heavy sanctions.

In March, the Taliban drew criticism from many foreign governments for making a U-turn on a previous commitment to open educational institutions to girls beyond grade six, blocking those over the age of 11 or 12 from attending.

In an announcement on the first day of the new school year, the Taliban said that high schools would remain closed for girls until it came up with a plan which complied with its strict interpretation of Islamic Sharia law.

The Taliban has also restricted women from most employment, and has ordered them to wear head-to-toe clothing in public. Women are also banned from parks and gyms.

Confirmation of the university restrictions came on the evening of a UN Security Council session on Afghanistan, at which delegates were told that the closure of schools had “undermined” the Taliban administration’s relationship with the international community.

Taliban fighters stand guard as female students arrive for entrance exams at Kabul University in October

“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,” said UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres’s special representative for Afghanistan, Roza Otunbayeva.

Both Britain and the US were among those to condemn the decision, with Washington’s deputy UN ambassador Robert Wood saying: “The Taliban cannot expect to be a legitimate member of the international community until they respect the rights of all Afghans.”

The announcement came as many university students were sitting end of term exams. One student’s mother, who asked not to be named for security reasons, said her daughter called her in tears when she heard of the letter, fearing she could no longer continue her medical studies in Kabul.

“The pain that not only I .. and [other] mothers have in our heart, could not be described. We are all feeling this pain, they are worried for the future of their children,” she told Reuters.

Last month, UN experts alleged that the Taliban’s treatment of Afghan women and girls, by excluding them from public spaces and stopping them from accessing education, may amount to a crime against humanity, UN experts said on Friday.

This may qualify as “gender persecution” under the treaty which established the International Criminal Court, said the UN special rapporteur on Afghanistan, and nine other UN experts, who warned that confining women to their homes was “tantamount to imprisonment”.

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