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UN mission urges Taliban to reverse move to ban women from universities

Protesters march through the Dashti-E-Barchi neighborhood, a day after the Taliban announced their new all-male interim government with a no representation for women and ethnic minority groups, in Kabul, Afghanistan, Wednesday, September 8, 2021. (Marcus Yam/Los Angeles Times/TNS)

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) has urged the country’s de facto Taliban rulers to immediately revoke a decision to ban female students from universities as guards stopped women from entering campuses and medical students in the eastern part of the country protested against the measure.

The Taliban announced its decision to forbid women from universities late on December 20 in a letter from the Education Ministry to higher education institutions, drawing immediate condemnation from the international community.

“The UN family and the entire humanitarian community in Afghanistan share the outrage of millions of Afghans and the international community over the decision by the Taliban de facto authorities to close universities to female students across the country until further notice and calls on the de facto authorities to immediately revoke the decision,” UNAMA said in a statement on December 22.

As women were being turned back by armed security guards at universities in the capital, Kabul, and other Afghan cities, several hundred medical students, both male and female, protested against the measure at Nangarhar University’s medical school in eastern Afghanistan.

Some of the female students, who did not want to be named for fear of reprisals by the Talban, told Radio Azadi that their end-of-semester exams were supposed to start December 22, but that, following the announcement, they were barred from taking the exams.

In a rare display of solidarity, some male students joined the protest and refused to take part in the exams as well.

But in Kandahar, the base of the radical Taliban movement, male students sat for exams in classrooms while female colleagues were banned from campuses.

Since seizing control of Afghanistan in August 2021 amid the hasty withdrawal of U.S.-led forces from the war-wracked country, the Taliban has banned girls from attending school past the sixth grade, restricted women from holding most jobs, and ordered them to cover head-to-toe when in public. Women are also banned from entering parks and gyms.

In its statement, UNAMA warned that preventing women from “contributing meaningfully to society and the economy will have a devastating impact on the whole country” and bring more international isolation and economic hardship to a country already on the brink of a humanitarian catastrophe.

The UNAMA statement came a day after UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres condemned the decision, calling it another “broken promise” from the Taliban — which said when it took power that it would respect human rights — and a “very troubling” move.

“It’s difficult to imagine how a country can develop, can deal with all of the challenges that it has, without the active participation of women and the education,” Guterres said.

On December 22, German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said the Taliban had “decided to destroy” Afghanistan’s future by banning women from higher education and said she would put the issue on the agenda of the G7 club of advanced economies, of which Germany currently holds the presidency.

“By destroying the future of girls and women in Afghanistan, the Taliban decided to destroy their own country’s future,” she tweeted. “The Taliban may try to make women invisible, but won’t succeed — the world is watching.”

The U.S. State Department also condemned the move and said there would be significant consequences.