Taliban-led Afghan administration suspends women from universities | World

Kabul: Afghanistan’s Taliban-run ministry of higher education on Tuesday suspended female students’ access to universities until further notice, drawing strong condemnation from the US, Britain and the United Nations.

A letter confirmed by a spokesman for the ministry of higher education ordered public and private universities in Afghanistan to immediately suspend access to female students, according to a Cabinet decision.

The announcement by the Taliban administration, which has not been accepted internationally, came as the United Nations Security Council met in Afghanistan in New York.

Foreign governments, including the United States, have said a change in policies on women’s education is needed before they can consider formal recognition of the Taliban-led administration, which also faces harsh sanctions.

“The Taliban cannot hope to be a legitimate member of the international community until they respect the rights of all Afghans, especially the human rights and basic freedom of women and girls,” Robert Wood, the US deputy ambassador to the UN, told the council, describing the move as “absolutely indefensible”.

In Washington, State Department spokesman Ned Price said the United States will consider what more it can do to hold the Taliban accountable.

Britain’s ambassador to the UN, Barbara Woodward, said the suspension was “a massive curtailment of women’s rights and a deep, profound disappointment to every female student”.

“It’s another step taken by the Taliban to move away from an autonomous and prosperous Afghanistan,” he told the council.

In March, the Taliban drew criticism from many foreign governments and some Afghans for reversing signs that they would open all girls’ high schools.

UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said Tuesday’s move was “clearly another broken promise by the Taliban”.

“It’s another very worrying move and it’s hard to imagine how the country can develop, to face all the challenges it faces, without the active participation of women and women’s education,” he told reporters in New York.

Roza Otunbayeva, the United Nations Special Envoy for Afghanistan, said in a statement that the decision was “devastating”.

Shortly before receiving the announcement from Kabul, Otunbayeva told the Security Council that the closure of the high schools had “undermined” the Taliban administration’s relationship with the international community and was “very unpopular among Afghans and even within the Taliban leadership.”

“As long as girls continue to be excluded from school and de facto authorities continue to ignore other concerns of the international community, we remain at a standstill,” he said.

The decision came as many university students were taking their end-of-year exams. The mother of a university student, who asked not to be named for security reasons, said her daughter called her in tears after hearing about the letter, fearing she could no longer continue her medical studies in Kabul.

“The pain that I alone… and (other) mothers have in our hearts cannot be described. We all feel that pain, they are worried about the future of their children,” he said.

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