The United Nations has renewed its call for Afghanistan's Taliban to immediately reopen schools to teenage girls, saying the de facto authorities have no justification for denying the right to education on any grounds, including religion or tradition.
"The ongoing unlawful denial of girls and young women's right to education in Afghanistan marks a global nadir in education, impacting an entire gender, a generation, and the future of the country," a U.N. panel of experts said Monday.
There is no indication the Taliban intend to lift the ban on female education as secondary schools across the South Asian nation reopen later this week after winter break, the statement lamented.
"Instead, it appears that for the second successive school year, teenage girls will be banned from resuming their studies," the U.N. panel said, adding that Afghanistan is the only country in the world where girls and young women are barred from receiving an education.
Separately, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, while launching the 2022 Human Rights Report on Monday, renewed Washington's denunciation of curbs on Afghan women's access to education and work.
Blinken said the Taliban leadership "relentlessly discriminates and represses" Afghan women. He noted the de facto authorities have so far issued 80 decrees that restrict women's freedom of movement and the right to education and work.
"I'll say very simply that we deplore the edicts," Blinken told reporters.
He said the order banning Afghan female employees of nongovernmental organizations from workplaces "imperils" millions of Afghans who depend on humanitarian assistance for survival.
The Taliban returned to power in August 2021 as U.S. and NATO troops withdrew from Afghanistan after two decades of war.
The hardline former insurgent group has since implemented its strict interpretation of Islamic law, or Sharia, barring most women from workplaces and banning female education beyond grade six in the war-torn country of about 40 million people.
The Taliban have rejected calls to reverse the bans, saying they align with local tradition and Sharia.
No country has formally recognized the de facto Afghan authorities as the legitimate rulers, citing human rights concerns, particularly the treatment of women.
"I think it's safe to say from conversations with countries around the world that to the extent the Taliban is looking for more normal relations with countries around the world, that will not happen so long as they continue to advance these repressive edicts against women and girls," Blinken stressed.
Meanwhile, Qatar said Monday it had hosted talks with a Taliban delegation led by Education Minister Mawlawi Sayyid Habeeb on "the future of education in Afghanistan and the challenges and obstacles facing it."
The Foreign Ministry in Doha said regional UNICEF representatives had also attended the meeting where "equal access to education for all, especially girls" was discussed, among other issues.
"The participants also agreed on the need to ensure the right to education for all, develop a common vision that deals with challenges, and provide high-quality education opportunities for all Afghan students in all regions," the statement said.
It quoted the Taliban delegation praising Qatar's efforts "in organizing that event that would come up with solutions to help the Afghan people improve the quality of education and ensure its access to male and female students" across Afghanistan.
Western governments relocated their embassies from the Afghan capital, Kabul, to Doha after the Taliban takeover. Russia, Turkey, Qatar and Afghanistan's neighbors — including China, Pakistan and Iran — are among over a dozen countries that have kept their embassies open in Kabul. They have also allowed the Taliban to run Afghan embassies and consulates in their territories.