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The Taliban bans university education for girls in Afghanistan

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The Taliban administration in Afghanistan has banned girls from receiving post-secondary education, amid criticism of its poor record on women’s rights.

Despite promises of softer rule when it seized power last year, the Taliban have tightened restrictions on all aspects of women’s lives, ignoring international outrage.

“All of you have been informed of the immediate implementation of the aforementioned order to stop female education until further notice,” said a letter addressed to all public and private universities, signed by Minister of Higher Education Nada Mohamed Nadeem.

The ministry’s spokesperson, Diaaullah Al-Hashemi, who sent the message on Twitter, confirmed the matter in a text message to Agence France-Presse (Agence France-Presse).

Washington condemned the decision “in the strongest terms.”

US State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters in Washington: “The Taliban should expect that this decision, which contradicts the commitments they have repeatedly and publicly made to their people, will result in tangible costs.”

The ban on higher education comes less than three months after thousands of girls and women took university entrance exams across the country, many of whom aspire to choose teaching and medicine as their future careers.

Universities are currently in winter break and are set to reopen in March.

After the Taliban took over the country, universities had to implement new rules including gender-segregated classrooms and entrances, while women were only allowed to be taught by female professors or old men.

Most teenage girls across the country were already barred from secondary education, severely limiting university enrollment.

Journalism student Medina, who only wanted her first name published, had a hard time understanding the significance of Tuesday’s order.

“I have nothing to say. Not only me but all my friends have no words to express our feelings,” the 18-year-old told AFP in Kabul.

“Everyone is thinking about the unknown future in front of them. They have buried our dreams.”

Medical student Ria in the capital, who asked to change her name, added that the country was returning to the “dark days”.

“When we were hoping for progress, they cut us out of society,” said the 26-year-old.

“a basic human right”

Ramiz Alakbarov, deputy special representative of the UN Secretary-General for Afghanistan, said the UN was “very concerned” about the matter.

“Education is a basic human right. A closed door to women’s education is a closed door to the future of Afghanistan,” he wrote on Twitter.

The Taliban adheres to a hardline version of Islam, with the movement’s supreme leader Hebatullah Akhundzada and his inner circle of Afghan clerics against modern education, especially for girls and women.

But they are at odds with many officials in Kabul and in their ranks who had hoped to allow the girls to continue their education after seizing power.

“There are serious differences in the ranks of the Taliban with regard to girls’ education, and the recent decision will exacerbate these differences,” a Taliban commander based in northwest Pakistan told AFP on condition of anonymity.

In a cruel twist, the Taliban in March banned girls from returning to secondary schools the morning they were supposed to reopen.

Many Taliban officials say the ban on secondary education is only temporary, but they also put forward a range of excuses for the closure — from a lack of funds to the time needed to reformulate the curriculum along Islamic lines.

Since Prohibition, many teenage girls have been married off early — often with plenty of older men of their father’s choice.

Several families interviewed by AFP last month said that, coupled with the economic pressure, banning schools means securing their daughters’ futures through marriage is better than having them sit idle at home.

“international pressure”

Women have also been fired from many government jobs – or are being paid reduced salaries to stay at home. They are also forbidden to travel without a male relative and must cover themselves outside the home, ideally with a burqa.

In November they were also banned from parks, fairs, gyms and public baths.

The international community has made the right to education for all women a sticking point in negotiations over aid and recognition of the Taliban regime.

“The international community has not and will not forget Afghan women and girls,” the UN Security Council said in a statement in September.

In the twenty years between the two Taliban eras, girls were allowed to go to school and women were able to seek work in all sectors, although the country remained socially conservative.

The authorities have also returned to public floggings and executions of men and women in recent weeks because they apply extremist interpretations of Islamic law.

The economic crisis in Afghanistan has worsened since the return of the Taliban to power after the rapid withdrawal of foreign forces led by the United States last August.

Washington froze $7 billion in US-owned Afghan assets while the billions in foreign aid that helped prop up the country fell dramatically.

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