KABUL (Reuters) – Afghan universities have been declared off-limits to women because female students did not follow instructions, including an appropriate dress code, the Taliban minister for higher education said on Thursday.
The ban announced earlier this week is the latest restriction on women’s rights in Afghanistan ordered by the Taliban since they returned to power in August last year.
It sparked global outrage, including from Muslim nations who deemed it un-Islamic, and industrialized Group of Seven democracies who said the ban could amount to “a crime against humanity”.
But Neda Mohamed Nadeemminister of higher education in the Taliban government, insisted on Thursday that the female students had ignored Islamic instructions, including what to wear or whether to be accompanied by a male relative when traveling .
“Unfortunately, after 14 months, the instructions of the Ministry of Higher Education of the Islamic Emirate regarding the education of women have not been implemented,” Nadeem said in an interview on state television.
“They were dressing like they were going to a wedding. These girls who came from home in college weren’t following the hijab instructions either.”
Nadeem also said that some science subjects are not suitable for women. “Engineering, agriculture and some other courses do not correspond to the dignity and honor of female students and also to Afghan culture,” he said.
The authorities also decided to close these madrassas which only taught female students but were housed inside mosques, Nadeem said.
The ban on university teaching came less than three months after thousands of female students were allowed to take university entrance exams, many of whom aspired to teaching and medicine as future careers .
Girls’ secondary schools have been closed across most of the country for more than a year – also temporarily, according to the Taliban, although they have offered a litany of excuses as to why they have not reopened.
Women have been slowly squeezed out of public life since the return of the Taliban, kicked out of many government jobs or paid a fraction of their former wages to stay home.
They are also prohibited from traveling without a male relative and must cover up in public, and they are prohibited from going to parks, fairs, gymnasiums and public baths.
The Taliban’s treatment of women, including their latest move to restrict their access to university, has prompted a fierce backlash from the G7, whose ministers have demanded the ban be reversed.
“Gender-based persecution may constitute a crime against humanity under the Rome Statute, to which Afghanistan is a state party,” the ministers said in a statement, referring to the International Criminal Court in The Hague. .
“Taliban policies designed to cut women out of public life will have consequences for how our countries engage with the Taliban.”
The international community has made the right to education for all women a sticking point in negotiations on aid and recognition of the Taliban regime.
Saudi Arabia also expressed “astonishment and regret” at the ban, urging the Taliban to reverse it.
But Nadeem hit back at the international community, saying she should “not interfere in the internal affairs of Afghanistan”.
Earlier Thursday, a group of Afghan women staged a street protest in Kabul against the ban.
“They expelled women from universities. Oh, respected people, support, support. Rights for everyone or no one!” chanted protesters as they gathered in a Kabul neighborhood, according to footage obtained by AFP.
A demonstrator at the rally told AFP that “some of the girls” had been arrested by female police officers. Two were later released and two remained in custody, she added, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Protests led by women have become increasingly rare in Afghanistan since the Taliban took over the country in August 2021, especially after grassroots activists were detained earlier this year.
Participants risk arrest, violence and stigmatization from their families for participating.
Despite promising looser rule when they took power, the Taliban have tightened restrictions on all aspects of women’s lives.
After their takeover, universities were forced to implement new rules, including gender-segregated classrooms and entrances, while women were only allowed to be taught by professors of the same sex or old men.
The Taliban adhere to an austere version of Islam, with the movement’s supreme leader Hibatullah Akhundzada and his inner circle of clerics against modern education, especially for girls and women, according to some Taliban officials.
In the 20 years between the two Taliban reigns, girls were allowed to go to school and women were able to seek employment in all sectors, although the country remained socially conservative.
Authorities have also resumed publicly flogging men and women in recent weeks as they implement an extreme interpretation of Islamic Sharia.

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