Afghanistan’s Taliban rulers banned university studies for women nationwide on Tuesday, as Islamists continue to suppress their right to education and freedom.
Despite promising softer rules when they took power last year, the Taliban have increased restrictions on all aspects of women’s lives, despite international outrage.
“You are all hereby informed to suspend female education with immediate effect until further notice,” said a letter to all government and private universities, signed by Higher Education Minister Neda Mohammad Nadeem.
Ministry spokesman 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 hope to be a legitimate member of the international community until the rights of all Afghans are respected. This decision will have consequences for the Taliban,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement.
“No country can progress when half the population remains stagnant.”
The ban on higher education comes less than three months after thousands of girls and women sat for university entrance exams across the country, many hoping to choose teaching and medicine as future careers.
Universities are on winter break and will reopen in March.
After the Taliban took over the country, universities were forced to implement new rules, including gender-segregated classrooms and entrances, while women could only be taught by female professors or elders.
Most adolescent girls across the country are already barred from secondary education, limiting many university entrances.
Journalism student Madina, who wanted only her first name published, struggled to understand the weight of Tuesday’s order.
“I have nothing to say. Except me, 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. They buried our dreams.”
Rhea, a medical student in the capital, added that the country was returning to the “dark days”, and called for her name to be changed.
“When we were hoping to make progress, they are removing us from society,” said the 26-year-old.
– “A basic human right” –
The United Nations is “deeply concerned” by the order, the UN chief’s special representative in Afghanistan, Ramiz Alakbarov, said.
“Education is a basic human right. A door closed to women’s education is a door closed to Afghanistan’s future,” he tweeted.
The Taliban adhere to a strict version of Islam, with the movement’s top leader Hibatullah Akhundzada and his inner circle of clerics opposed to modern education, especially for girls and women.
But they are at odds with many officials in Kabul and among their peers, who expected the girls to continue studying after their master.
“There are huge disparities in the education of girls in the ranks of the Taliban, and the latest decision will exacerbate those disparities,” a Taliban commander based in northwest Pakistan told AFP on condition of anonymity.
In a cruel twist, the Taliban in March blocked the girls from returning to the secondary school on the morning it was due to reopen.
Several Taliban officials have said the secondary school ban is temporary, but have given a range of excuses for the closure, from a lack of funds to the time needed to redesign the curriculum along Islamic lines.
Since the ban, many teenage girls have married early, often to much older men chosen by their fathers.
Several families interviewed by AFP last month said that, along with financial pressure, the school ban meant securing their daughters’ futures through marriage was better than staying at home.
– International pressure –
Women have also been pushed out of many government jobs or are being paid a reduced salary to stay at home. Furthermore, it is forbidden to travel without a male relative, and they must cover themselves outside the home, preferably with a burqa.
In November, it was also forbidden to go to parks, fun fairs, sports centers and public baths.
The international community has hidden the right to education for all women in negotiations on support and recognition of the Taliban regime.
“The international community has not and will not forget the women and girls of Afghanistan,” the UN Security Council said in a statement in September.
In the 20 years between the two Taliban reigns, girls were allowed to go to school and women were able to find employment in all sectors, even though the country was socially conservative.
Authorities have returned to public floggings and executions of men and women in recent weeks as they enforce their extreme interpretation of Islamic sharia law.
Afghanistan’s economic crisis has only worsened since the Taliban returned to power following the rapid withdrawal of US-led foreign forces last August.
Washington froze $7 billion in Afghan assets held by the United States, while billions in foreign aid that helped prop up the country has been cut sharply.
(This story has not been edited by NDTV staff and was automatically generated from a syndicated feed.)