On Tuesday, December 20, the Taliban government in Afghanistan barred all women in the country from attending any institution of higher education. The decision has led to angry reactions from Afghans and international rights organizations.
The official order, signed by the Taliban’s minister of higher education Neda Mohammad Nadeem on Tuesday, asked both public and private universities to “immediately implement the order of suspending the education of females until further notice.”
Horrendous news for Afghan women and girls. The Taliban have announced the closure of universities for women in Afghanistan, according to a letter by the higher education minister. It is expected to take effect immediately pic.twitter.com/bVhXGXhYUg
— Yalda Hakim (@BBCYaldaHakim) December 20, 2022
The decision provoked strong reactions from Afghans. A small number of women organized a protest in Kabul on Wednesday after the decision was made public. Taliban forces quickly dispersed the protesters. Several other protests were also organized around Afghanistan.
Reacting to the news, UN spokesperson Stéphane Dujarric called this policy “another broken promise from the Taliban” and “another troubling move.” He said that the Taliban has been gradually “lessening the space for women not only in education but access to public areas, their non-participation in public debate.” Dujarric openly wondered “how a country can develop, can deal with all of the challenges that it has, without the active participation of women and the education of women.”
The UN secretary general António Guterres said he was “deeply alarmed” by the news, saying that the move violated women’s right to equality and would have a devastating impact on the country’s future.
The decision has also led to angry responses from other sections in Afghanistan, including male university students. Some male students have been boycotting their classes in protest on Wednesday.
Male university students are abandoning & walking out of their exam in protest against Taliban’s decision to ban female students from university education.
— Pamir News (@PamirNews) December 21, 2022
Several Afghan women have taken to social media to condemn the decision, with some calling it self-destructive and suicidal.
No body politic would do this to itself. No people would do this to themselves, their children, their future. It is self-destruction; a suicidal act in the language of policy. It tells of malevolent ill-will towards the people of Afghanistan. How could it not? https://t.co/aFNjDMtAZf
— Muska Dastageer (@DastageerMuska) December 20, 2022
Gradual erasure of women from public spaces
The ban comes as a new blow to women’s rights in Afghanistan after the Taliban government recently barred women from public parks, gyms, and public bathing places, and has ordered them to cover their faces when in public.
Girls in Afghanistan have already been barred from secondary schools. The Taliban government went back on its promises to reopen the schools in March this year. It had shut them immediately after taking control of the country in August 2021 but claimed that the closures were temporary, until the necessary logistical arrangements had been made.
Ever since the Taliban took control of the country in August 2021, women’s participation in universities has only been permitted with strict segregation. Women would have to sit separately from men and only women or older male professors were allowed to teach them.
Even before Tuesday’s ban on higher education, several universities in Afghanistan had barred women from attending classes, leading to protests.
The decision on Tuesday comes despite the fact that the government had allowed women to give university entrance exams just a few weeks earlier, albeit with limited options. This had raised hopes that university education for women might continue.
After assuming power for the second time last year, the Taliban had promised that it would respect women’s rights. It had also promised that restrictions related to education and jobs were temporary in nature. However, as Obaidullah Baheer, an assistant professor at the American University of Afghanistan, writes, “there is little reason to take Taliban at their word on the temporary nature of the bans.” Now that the Taliban has gone back on all the promises it made when it took power, he says that the people of Afghanistan must show that they stand against this decision.