On Tuesday, the Taliban suspended the right for women to access university education. The ban on women entering higher education follows earlier revocations of women’s educational rights made earlier this year.
The Taliban seized control of Afghanistan in 2021 amid the withdrawal of US and ISAF forces from the country. Since then, the Taliban government has broken several promises it made regarding human rights reform to the international community.
The decision has been condemned by Western governments and non-government organizations (NGOs).
Taliban suspend university education for women
The decision to suspend women’s university education was confirmed by a spokesperson for the Afghan Ministry of Higher Education who spoke to CNN. According to a letter published by the education ministry, the choice was made during a cabinet meeting and will be enforced immediately.
The Taliban previously ruled Afghanistan between 1996 and 2001, until they were ousted by the Afghan Northern Alliance and US-led forces. They regained power in 2021, as US and allied forces withdrew from the country.
The Taliban have traditionally taken a hardline position on several women’s rights issues. During the initial phase of the Taliban takeover last year, the alarm was raised that women were being sexually enslaved and sold as child brides.
The bar on higher education for women follows an earlier decision made by the Taliban in March of this year. That decision called for the prevention of secondary school attendance for girls.
Just three months ago, thousands of young Afghan women took university entrance exams. However, expansive restrictions were already in place which limited what subjects they could study.
Engineering, economics, veterinary science, and agriculture studies were made unavailable, and journalism degrees were heavily restricted. Now, the Taliban have enacted a complete shutout of women from higher education with the total ban.
Human Rights Watch has decried the ban, calling it a “shameful decision that violates the right to education for women and girls in Afghanistan.”
“The Taliban are making it clear every day that they don’t respect the fundamental rights of Afghans, especially women,” Human Rights Watch added.
US Ambassador Robert Wood likewise condemned the decision. “The Taliban cannot expect to be a legitimate member of the international community until they respect the rights of all Afghans, especially the human rights and fundamental freedoms of women and girls,” the ambassador said.
Meanwhile, the BBC spoke to some Afghan women whose aspirations of attending university had been crushed. One interviewee said “How can I react? I believed that I could study and change my future or bring the light to my life but they destroyed it.”
Hardline Taliban rule
The ban on female higher education is just one of many hardline positions the ultra-conservative Taliban have taken since re-seizing power in 2021.
In September 2021, the Taliban reinstated execution as a punishment. Mullah Nooruddin Turabi, one of the terrorist group’s founders, said, “No one will tell us what our laws should be. We will follow Islam and we will make our laws on the Quran.”
Earlier this year, Italian Ambassador Stefano Pontecorvo, who was previously NATO’s Senior Civilian Representative for Afghanistan and represented the Alliance in the Doha peace process, told a panel in London that the international community has little leverage over the Taliban.
According to Pontecorvo, Western nations and NGOs would struggle to incentivize the Taliban to respect human rights norms and values because the organization has relatively little interest in economic aid or formal diplomatic recognition. The Taliban are interested in “ideologically building” a society rather than in the reconstruction of Afghanistan.