Afghanistan’s Taliban-run Ministry of Higher Education banned female students from entering universities on Tuesday, prompting strong condemnation from the United States, Britain and the United Nations.
A letter confirmed by a spokesperson for the Ministry of Higher Education has instructed Afghanistan’s public and private universities to immediately stop access to female students in accordance with a cabinet decision.
The announcement by the internationally unrecognized Taliban regime came as the United Nations Security Council on Afghanistan met in New York.
Foreign governments, including the United States, have said a policy change on women’s education is needed before they can officially recognize the Taliban-led administration, which is subject to heavy sanctions.
US Deputy Ambassador Robert Wood told the council that the Taliban cannot expect to be a legitimate member of the international community unless they respect the human rights and fundamental freedoms of all Afghans, especially women and girls. “It is absolutely indefensible.
Ned Price, a spokesman for the State Department in Washington, said the United States is trying to see what more it can do to hold the Taliban accountable.
Britain’s ambassador to the UN, Barbara Woodward, said the ban was “another curtailment of women’s rights and a deep and huge disappointment for every female student”.
“It is also another step away from a more confident and prosperous Afghanistan for the Taliban,” she told the council.
In March, the Taliban signaled the opening of all-girls high schools, drawing criticism from many foreign governments and some Afghans.
UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said on Tuesday the move was “another broken promise to the Taliban”.
In a statement to reporters in New York, “This is another very serious step and it is difficult to imagine how the country can develop, how it can overcome all the challenges it has without women’s active participation and women’s education.”
Roza Otunbayeva, the UN Special Envoy for Afghanistan, said in a statement that the decision was “regrettable”.
Shortly before the Kabul announcement, Otunbayeva told the Security Council that the closure of high schools had “damaged” the Taliban administration’s relations with the international community and was “not very popular even within the leadership of Afghanistan and the Taliban.”
“As long as girls are excluded from school and government officials continue to ignore other expressed concerns of the international community, we will remain in a difficult situation,” she said.
The decision came as several university students sat for their final exams. The mother of a university student, who asked not to be named for safety reasons, called him in tears after hearing the letter, fearing her daughter would not be able to continue her medical studies in Kabul.
“Not only me but also (other) mothers, the pain in our hearts is indescribable. We are all feeling this pain, they are worried about their children’s future,” she said.