KABUL, Afghanistan — Female students have been banned from private and public universities in Afghanistan, effective immediately and until further notice, a Taliban government spokesman said Tuesday in the latest regulation cracking down on women’s rights and freedoms.
Although the Taliban initially promised a more moderate regime respecting the rights of women and minorities, they have largely implemented their strict interpretation of Islamic law, or Sharia.
They have banned girls from middle and high schools, barred women from most jobs, and ordered them to wear head-to-toe clothing in public. Women are also banned from parks and gyms.
The Taliban were ousted by a US-led coalition in 2001 for harboring al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and returned to power after America’s chaotic departure last year.
The decision was announced after a government meeting. A letter from Higher Education Ministry spokesman Ziaullah Hashmi urged private and public universities to implement the ban as soon as possible and to inform the ministry once the ban takes effect.
Hashmi tweeted the letter and confirmed its contents in a message to The Associated Press without giving further details.
The decision will certainly hamper the Taliban’s efforts to gain recognition from potential international donors at a time when the country is mired in a worsening humanitarian crisis. The international community has called on Taliban leaders to reopen schools and give women their right to public spaces.
The university ban comes weeks after Afghan girls sat their high school exams despite being banned from classrooms since the Taliban took over the country last year.
“I can’t fulfill my dreams, my hopes. Everything is disappearing before my eyes and there is nothing I can do about it,” said a third-year journalism and communications student at Nangarhar University. She did not want to be identified for fear of reprisals.
“Is it a crime to be a girl? If that’s the case, I wish I wasn’t a girl,” she added. “My father had dreams for me that in the future his daughter would become a talented journalist. That is now destroyed. So, tell me, how will a person feel in this situation?”
She added that she hasn’t lost all hope yet.
“God willing, I will definitely continue my studies. I am starting an online course. And if it doesn’t work, I have to leave the country and go to another country,” she said.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres condemned the decision, calling it another “broken promise” by the Taliban and a “very worrying” move.
“It’s hard to imagine how a country can develop and meet all its challenges without the active participation of women and education,” Guterres said.
Robert Wood, US Deputy Ambassador to the United Nations, said the Taliban cannot expect to be a legitimate member of the international community until they respect the rights of all Afghans.
Afghanistan’s UN seat is still held by the previous government of former President Ashraf Ghani, despite the Taliban’s bid to represent the country at the United Nations, which was recently postponed yet again.
Afghan chargé d’affaires Naseer Ahmed Faiq told the United Nations that the announcement “marks a new low in the violation of the most basic and universal human rights for all mankind.”