The US has strongly condemned the Taliban’s “indefensible decision” to ban women from universities and keep secondary schools closed to girls, with Secretary of State Antony Blinken warning that this decision will come with “consequences” for the hardline Islamist regime in Afghanistan. The Taliban rulers on Tuesday banned university education for women nationwide, as they took decisive steps to crush their right to education and freedom. It was a far cry from their promise of a softer rule when they seized power last year, with the Taliban regime strongly implementing their strict interpretation of the Islamic law, or Sharia. “You all are informed to immediately implement the mentioned order of suspending education of females until further notice,” according to a letter issued to all government and private universities, signed by Minister for Higher Education Neda Mohammad Nadeem. “The US condemns in the strongest terms the Taliban’s indefensible decision to ban women from universities, keep secondary schools closed to girls, and continue to impose other restrictions on the ability of women and girls in Afghanistan to exercise their human rights and fundamental freedoms,” Blinken said on Tuesday. The ban comes barely three months after scores of female students took university entrance exams across the country. “Education is a human right. It is also essential to Afghanistan’s economic growth and stability. The Taliban cannot expect to be a legitimate member of the international community until they respect the rights of all in Afghanistan. This decision will come with consequences for the Taliban,” Blinken warned. The move is almost certain to hurt efforts by the Taliban to win recognition from potential international donors at a time when the country is mired in a worsening humanitarian crisis.
“No other country in the world bars women and girls from receiving an education,” Blinken noted. Afghanistan is already losing more than USD 1 billion per year in contributions that women could be making to the economy. No country can thrive when half of its population is held back, he explained. “The Taliban’s latest announcement means that women and girls will continue to face enormous difficulties seeking employment to feed their families,” he said. The ban notwithstanding, Blinken added that Washington will continue to provide robust support to the Afghans, including women and girls, seek to meet their humanitarian needs, and organise with allies to collectively advocate for their rights. The Taliban were ousted in 2001 by a US-led coalition for harbouring Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. They, however, returned to power following America’s chaotic departure from the country in August 2021.