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Muslim Countries Blast Taliban for University Ban for Afghan Women

Afghan female university students, stopped by Taliban security personnel, stand next to a university in Kabul, Dec. 21, 2022.
Afghan female university students, stopped by Taliban security personnel, stand next to a university in Kabul, Dec. 21, 2022.

From Saudi Arabia to Turkey, Muslim countries have unanimously condemned the Afghan Taliban’s ban on higher education for women.

The Taliban announced Tuesday that they had banned women from attending public and private universities. The Islamist leadership closed secondary schools to girls more than a year ago.

Taliban officials have said their policies are based on Islamic jurisprudence, a claim many majority Muslim countries and Islamic scholars reject.

“The Ministry of Foreign Affairs expresses the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s astonishment and regret at the decision of the Afghan caretaker government to deny Afghan girls the right to university education, and calls on it to reverse this decision,” read a statement issued Tuesday.

The United Arab Emirates said the ban on university attendance by women and “earlier bans on girls from accessing secondary education violate fundamental human rights, contravene the teachings of Islam and must be swiftly reversed.”

Turkey, Pakistan, Indonesia, Qatar and many other governments across the Muslim world have made similar statements decrying the Taliban’s ban on women’s work and education.

On Wednesday, the Organization for Islamic Cooperation said, “The OIC, though still committed to its engagement policy with the de facto administration, cannot but denounce the decision, calling on Kabul authorities to reverse it for the sake of maintaining consistency between their promises and actual decisions.”

No country or Islamic organization has backed the Taliban’s policy on women’s education and work thus far.

On Thursday, U.S Secretary of State Antony Blinken praised what he called a global chorus, including from Islamic countries, in condemnation of the Taliban’s ban.

“There are going to be costs if this is not reversed,” Blinken told reporters in Washington on Thursday but gave no details.

The ban, if not reversed, will damage Taliban’s prospects of improved relations with the international community, Blinken said.

In a joint statement released Thursday, foreign ministers of Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and the U.S. decried the Taliban ban.

“We urge the Taliban to immediately abandon the new oppressive measures with respect to university education for women and girls and to, without delay, reverse the existing decision to prohibit girls’ access to secondary school,” the statement said.

Afghans inside and outside Afghanistan have also widely condemned the Taliban policy.

Some male university lecturers have resigned to protest the policy, while female students have protested outside university campuses in different parts of Afghanistan.

Ashraf Ghani, the former Afghan president who escaped the country as the Taliban seized power in August 2021, has called the denial of higher education for women “a vivid sign of gender apartheid in the 21st century.”

Neda Mohammad Nadeem, the Afghan Taliban minister of higher education, speaks on national TV in Kabul, Dec. 22, 2022.
Neda Mohammad Nadeem, the Afghan Taliban minister of higher education, speaks on national TV in Kabul, Dec. 22, 2022.

Taliban reasons

In an interview with the Taliban-run state broadcaster of Afghanistan, the Islamist regime’s minister for higher education, Neda Mohammad Nadeem, gave four reasons for the ban on higher education for women.

Dormitories where female students stayed without qualified male chaperones, mixed-gender classes, women's studies of subjects like engineering and agriculture, and overall poor compliance with female face and body covering rules “forced the leadership to close the universities until further instruction,” Nadeem said.

Nadeem did not say when, if ever, the ban would be lifted.

“Allah will bring such a day when all schools and universities will be opened for all. Do not despair. The country’s education system will be organized, independent, advanced and free of all kinds of corruption,” a Taliban official tweeted in the Pashto language on Thursday.

Taliban leaders have justified their gender segregating governance as being in line with Islamic laws and teachings. However, Afghanistan is the only Muslim country in the world where women are not allowed to go to secondary schools and universities.

Human rights groups say the Taliban’s policies are aimed at erasing women from public and political spheres in Afghanistan.

Despite being in control of all of Afghanistan for over a year, the Taliban’s de facto government has failed to gain recognition from any other country and most Taliban leaders are under terrorism-related international sanctions.