KABUL, Afghanistan — Female students are banned from private and public universities in Afghanistan effective immediately until further notice, a Taliban government spokesman said Tuesday in the latest decree to crack down on women’s rights and freedoms.
The Taliban have widely implemented their strict interpretation of Sharia law, or Sharia law, despite initially promising softer rules on the rights of women and minorities.
They banned girls from middle and high schools, restricted women from most jobs, and ordered them to wear head-to-toe clothing in public. Women are also banned from parks and gyms.
The Taliban, toppled by a U.S.-led coalition in 2001 for harboring al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, returned to power after a chaotic U.S. withdrawal last year.
The decision was announced after a government meeting. A letter shared by Ministry of Higher Education spokesperson Ziaullah Hashmi told private and public universities to implement the ban as soon as possible and to notify the Ministry of Education once the ban is in place.
Hashemi tweeted the letter and confirmed its contents in a message to The Associated Press, but gave no further details.
The decision is sure to damage the Taliban’s efforts to win approval from potential international donors at a time when the Taliban is mired in a worsening humanitarian crisis. The international community has urged Taliban leaders to reopen schools and give women the right to enter public spaces.
The university ban comes weeks after Afghan girls sat their high school graduation exams, although they have been barred from classrooms since the Taliban took over the country last year.
“I couldn’t achieve my dreams, my hopes. Everything was disappearing before my eyes and there was nothing I could do about it,” said a third-year journalism and communication student at Nangarhar University. She spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals.
“Is being a girl a crime? If so, I wish I wasn’t a girl,” she added. “My father had a dream for me that his daughter would become a talented journalist in the future. Now that dream has been shattered. So, tell me, how does a person feel in this situation?”
She added that she has not lost all hope.
“God willing, I will continue my studies in any way. I am starting my studies online. And, if it doesn’t work, I will have to leave the country for another country,” she said.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres condemned the decision, calling it another “broken promise” and “very disturbing” move by the Taliban.
“Without the active participation and education of women, it is difficult to imagine how a country can develop and deal with all the challenges it faces,” Guterres said.
U.S. Deputy Ambassador to the United Nations Robert Wood said the Taliban could not hope to be a legitimate member of the international community until the rights of all Afghans were respected.
Afghanistan’s seat at the United Nations is still held by the previous government led by former President Ashraf Ghani, despite the Taliban’s request to represent the country at the United Nations, which was recently postponed again.
Nasir Ahmed Faik, Afghanistan’s chargé d’affaires, said at the United Nations that the declaration “marks a new low in the violation of the most fundamental and universal human rights of all human beings”.