The Taliban government announced Tuesday that it will immediately ban Afghan women from attending universities in a new edict cracking down on rights and freedoms based on gender.
Despite initially promising more moderate rules that would respect the rights of women and minorities, the Taliban have widely implemented their strict interpretation of Islamic law, or sharia.
They banned girls from attending middle and high school, restricted women from most jobs and ordered them to wear head-to-toe clothing in public.
Women were also banned from parks and gyms
The Taliban were overthrown in 2001 by a U.S.-led coalition for harboring Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, and returned to power after the chaotic U.S. departure last year.
A letter shared by Higher Education Ministry spokesman Ziaullah Hashmi called on public and private universities to implement the ban as soon as possible and inform the ministry once it is in effect.
It is believed that the decision will hurt the Taliban’s efforts to win recognition from potential international donors at a time when the country is mired in a worsening humanitarian crisis.
The international community has urged the Taliban leadership to reopen schools and give women their right to public space.
The university ban comes weeks after Afghan girls took their high school graduation exams, despite being barred from classrooms since the Taliban retook power.
“I cannot fulfill my dreams, my hopes. Everything is disappearing before my eyes and I can’t do anything about it,” said a third-year journalism and communication student at Nangarhar University. She did not want to be identified for fear of reprisals.
“Is being a girl a crime? If that’s the case, I wish I wasn’t a girl,” she added. “My father had dreams for me, that his daughter would become a talented journalist in the future. That is now destroyed. So, tell me, how would a person feel in this situation?”
She added that she had not yet given up all hope.
“God willing, I will continue my studies anyway. I am starting online studies. And, if it doesn’t work, I will have to leave the country and go to another country,” he said.
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres condemned the decision, calling it another “broken promise” by the Taliban and a “very worrying” move.
“It’s hard to imagine how a country can develop, can cope with all the challenges it has, without the active participation of women and education,” Guterres said.
Robert Wood, the U.S. deputy ambassador to the United Nations, said the Taliban cannot expect to be a legitimate member of the international community until they respect the rights of all Afghans.
Afghanistan’s seat at the UN is still in the hands of the previous government headed by former President Ashraf Ghani, despite the Taliban’s application to represent the country at the UN, which was recently postponed again.
Afghanistan’s chargé d’affaires, Naseer Ahmed Faiq, said at the UN that the announcement “marks a new low in the violation of the most fundamental and universal human rights for all humanity.”