Gordon Brown is calling on more leaders in Islamic countries to denounce a move barring Afghan women from higher education.
The United Nations special envoy for global education has called on Islamic countries to condemn a move by the Taliban to ban women students from universities, the latest in a series of restrictions imposed on women in Afghanistan.
“This is one of the saddest days for those working on the rights of women and girls,” Gordon Brown said of the Taliban-led Ministry of Higher Education’s decision this week.
In an interview with Al Jazeera aired on Friday, Brown said that not allowing women to train as doctors, teachers, researchers, scientists and other professions would hurt Afghanistan’s economy in the long term.
In the short term, the decision could mean that women who have grown accustomed to being “independent thinkers” would either seek to leave the country or submit to those rules, he said.
Brown, who was previously British Prime Minister, noted that while the West has limited leverage over the Taliban-led government after two decades of conflict, Islamic countries could play a crucial role in shifting Taliban policy towards a more to influence greater inclusivity.
“We can deal with it by having all our leaders in Muslim countries protest and say Islam doesn’t require it,” he said.
In an editorial published in Britain’s The Guardian newspaper, Brown noted that all countries in the Muslim world except Taliban-led Afghanistan have publicly committed to the UN Sustainable Development Goal that by 2030 every child should have access to “a inclusive and equitable and quality education”.
A number of Muslim countries have already condemned the nationwide ban.
Qatar’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement on Tuesday that the measures would have a significant impact on Afghanistan’s economy, growth and human rights. Doha called on Afghanistan’s interim government to reconsider its decision and apply Islamic principles on women’s rights.
Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Thursday the ban was “neither Islamic nor humane”. At a joint press conference with his Yemeni counterpart, Cavusoglu called on the Taliban to reverse the decision.
“What harm is there in women’s education? What harm is it doing to Afghanistan?” Cavusoglu said. “Is there an Islamic explanation? On the contrary, our religion, Islam, is not against education. On the contrary, it promotes education and science.”
The Saudi Foreign Ministry has expressed “astonishment and regret” at the denial of higher education to Afghan women. In a statement late Wednesday, the ministry said the decision was “amazing in all Islamic countries.”
Since returning to power after US troops withdrew in 2021, the Taliban have backtracked on promises to guarantee girls’ right to education and other freedoms.
In March, it banned girls from secondary education and later extended the restrictions to primary and eventually higher education.
The group argues that their rules are consistent with their interpretation of Islam.
Afghan female students protested the ban in Kabul on Friday when Taliban operatives barred them from classrooms.
The protests were quickly shut down by security officials.