The United Nations secretary-general Monday renewed his demand for Afghanistan's Taliban to allow teenage girls to attend high school.
"This is an unjustifiable violation of human rights that inflicts long-lasting damage on the entire country," Antonio Guterres said on X (formerly Twitter). "Girls belong in school. Let them back in," he added. His statement marks two years since the de facto rulers imposed an education ban.
The Taliban seized power from an internationally backed government in August 2021 and have since imposed sweeping restrictions on Afghan women's access to education and work. They have banned girls from school beyond sixth grade, making Afghanistan the only country in the world with restrictions on education for females.
Guterres told reporters last week that the rights of women and girls in Afghanistan "is absolutely central to all concerns" and would be on the agenda of the U.N. General Assembly session starting Monday in New York.
Education Cannot Wait, the U.N. global fund for education in emergencies and protracted crises, denounced the ban as a violation of universal human rights.
"In all, 80% of school-aged Afghan girls are currently out of school – that's 2.5 million girls denied their right to the safety, protection, opportunity of education – their inherent human right," the agency said.
The Taliban have imposed their harsh interpretation of Islamic law, or sharia, in the impoverished war-ravaged South Asian nation, ordering most female government employees to stay home and banning Afghan female aid workers from working for aid groups in a country where 97% of the population needs humanitarian assistance.
Women are prohibited from visiting public parks, gyms, or bathhouses, and a close male relative must accompany them for long road trips.
The Taliban have defied international calls for a reversal of their bans on women, saying their policies are aligned with Afghan culture and Islamic law. The treatment of Afghan women has primarily blocked the de facto authorities’ efforts to win legitimacy for their government in Kabul.
Muslim scholars from other Islamic countries have disputed and criticized Taliban restrictions, saying Islam does not prohibit women from receiving an education or having a public life.
This month, a delegation from the 57-nation Organization of Islamic Cooperation, or OIC, visited Kabul to discuss bans on women. They "held several meetings with Afghan scholars and (Taliban) officials on issues of utmost importance to the organization such as tolerance in Islam, girls' education and women's work," according to a post-visit OIC statement.
Tom West, the U.S. special representative for Afghanistan, welcomed the OIC's engagements in a statement last week, stressing the need to sustain the campaign.
Speaking at a seminar in Washington, he said, however, that Afghans would have to work collectively to push the Taliban to reverse their repressive policies, especially those targeting female members of the society.
"If a change has to occur on allowing women to return to secondary schools, girls' secondary schools, and then to university, it's going to come from inside the country," the U.S. envoy stressed.
"If there is a shift on this set of issues, it will not be as a result of foreign pressure; it would be because Afghans have called for this shift, and the Taliban would do it because it is in the best interest of the country domestically," West added.