Afghan women cry as Taliban fighters enforce university bans

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — Taliban security forces in the Afghan capital on Wednesday enforced a ban on women’s higher education by blocking their access to universities, with video obtained by The Associated Press showing women crying and comforting each other outside a campus in Kabul.

The country’s Taliban leaders ordered women across the country a day early to stop attending private and public universities with immediate effect and until further notice. The Taliban-led government has not given a reason for the ban or reacted to its fierce and swift global condemnation.

Journalists saw Taliban troops outside four universities in Kabul on Wednesday. The armed forces prevented some women from entering, while others went in to finish their work. They also tried to prevent photography, filming and protests.

Rahimullah Nadeem, a spokesman for Kabul University, confirmed that classes for female students have been halted. He said some women were allowed to enter the campus for paperwork and administrative reasons, and four graduations were held on Wednesday.

Members of an activist group called Unity and Solidarity of Afghanistan Women gathered outside Kabul’s private Edrak University on Wednesday morning and chanted slogans in Dari.

“Don’t make education political!” they said. “Again, university is forbidden for women, we don’t want to be eliminated!”

While the Taliban initially promised a more moderate rule that respects the rights of women and minorities, since taking power in August 2021, they have widely implemented their strict interpretation of Islamic law, or Sharia.

They have banned girls from middle school and high school, barred women from most jobs and ordered them to wear head-to-toe clothing in public. Women are also banned from parks and gyms.

A letter from higher education ministry spokesman Ziaullah Hashmi on Tuesday told private and public universities to implement the ban as soon as possible and inform the ministry once the ban is in effect.

The move will certainly hurt Taliban efforts to gain recognition from potential international donors at a time when Afghanistan is mired in a worsening humanitarian crisis. The international community has urged Taliban leaders to reopen schools and give women their right to public space.

US Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken said late Tuesday that no other country in the world prohibits women and girls from receiving education.

“The Taliban cannot expect to be a legitimate member of the international community until they respect the rights of everyone in Afghanistan,” he warned. “This decision will affect the Taliban.”

Afghan political analyst Ahmad Saeedi said the Taliban authorities’ latest decision may have closed the door to international acceptance.

“The issue of recognition is over,” he said. “The world is now trying to find an alternative. The world tried to interact more, but they (the Taliban) are not letting the world talk to them about recognition.”

Saeedi said he believes most Afghans are in favor of women’s education because they view learning as a religious commandment found in the Quran.

He said the decision to ban women from universities was likely taken by a handful of senior Taliban figures, including leader Hibatullah Akhunzada, who are based in the southwestern city of Kandahar, the birthplace of the Taliban movement.

He said the main center of power is Kandahar, not the Taliban-led government in Kabul, even if the ministers of justice, higher education and virtue and vice were also involved in the decision to ban women from universities.

UN experts said last month that the Taliban’s treatment of women and girls in Afghanistan could amount to a crime against humanity and should be investigated and prosecuted under international law.

They said the Taliban’s actions against women have exacerbated existing rights violations – already the “most draconian in the world” – and could lead to gender persecution, which is a crime against humanity.

The Taliban authorities have rejected the accusation.

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Associated Press writer Riazat Butt contributed from Islamabad.

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