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Taliban bans women from university education

By Sarah May on
 December 21, 2022

In an arguably predictable, yet still tragic consequence of America's hasty departure from Afghanistan last year, the Taliban rulers in that country have now barred females from attendance at universities, effective immediately, according to the Associated Press.

The Tuesday decision was made public following a meeting of government leaders, and a letter provided by the Afghan Ministry of Higher Education instructed all institutions of higher learning to enact the ban immediately.

Restrictions tighten

The Taliban's latest edict is a betrayal of initial pledges to rule with more moderation than in the past, as well as promises to respect the rights of women following the exit of U.S. troops last summer.

Instead, leaders in Afghanistan have reverted to a strict interpretation of Islamic law and have blocked girls from middle and high school attendance, prohibited women from visiting gyms and parks, and have mandated head-to-toe covering when in public, as the AP noted.

The ban on university attendance is, not surprisingly, being greeted with despair among young Afghan women, many of whom recently completed their high school graduation exams – albeit remotely, due to their inability to pursue in-person education.

Women who have already commenced higher education in the country are particularly saddened by recent events, with a journalism student at Nangarhar University telling the AP, “I can't fulfill my dreams, my hopes. Everything is disappearing before my eyes, and I can't do anything about it.”

“Is being a girl a crime? If that's the case, I wish I wasn't a girl. My father had dreams for me, that his daughter would become a talented journalist in the future. That is now destroyed,” she added before asking, “[s]o, you tell me, now will a person feel in this situation?”

Senatorial foreshadowing

The dramatic erosion of women's rights under the Taliban in the wake of America's military withdrawal from Afghanistan was already of real concern almost as soon as the last U.S. soldier left the country.

As CNBC reported last year, every single female U.S. senator had signed on to a letter to President Joe Biden urging prompt action to safeguard the rights of women and girls, which they feared were at risk under Taliban control.

Specifically, the lawmakers called on the administration to produce an “interagency plan” designed to preserve the social, economic, political, and human rights of females in Afghanistan.

“You have committed to press the Taliban to uphold the rights of women and girls, and you have stated that America will maintain an enduring partnership with the people of Afghanistan resisting Taliban rule,” the letter reminded the president, adding the senators' commitment to “advise, support, and enable those efforts through legislation and engagement with your administration.”

Empty words?

Sadly, however, the U.S. government's previous prioritization of female empowerment in Afghanistan – which was a hallmark of policy across two decades – appears to have fallen by the wayside, something Tuesday's announcement from Taliban leadership makes plain.

As The Hill reported in August, there is a pervasive sense of frustration and disappointment among Afghan women who feel they have been abandoned by the West, despite earlier vows of assistance.

Shaista Safi, 34, a former employee of the Afghan government and women's rights advocate explained at the time, “Before, all girls and women were free to go to school, to work, go out for fun, or wear whatever clothes they wanted.”

“But now we don't have any of these freedoms. We don't go to school. We don't have jobs. We don't have the freedom to go out, or to travel without a man,” she added. “We don't even have our basic rights. No work. No food. No education.”

In the estimation of another Afghan woman, identified only as Fatima, Western countries have largely forgotten about females in her country. “I don't think the U.S. has completed the promises it made,”

“Big open wound”

Former President Donald Trump was among the most vocal critics of the manner in which Biden decided to end U.S. military involvement in Afghanistan, decrying, as Fox News noted at the time, the fact that in doing so, he “created this big open wound, a void, and the Taliban just came in and filled it, and within 24 hours, they controlled the whole country.

In what has proven to be a tragically prescient observation, Trump also expressed incredulity that Biden would put stock in assurances given by the Taliban about its commitment to human rights, adding, “These are the people that knocked down the World Trade Center. These are the people who have treated people so humanely, so badly. I mean, we have been fighting them for 25 years, and to think that they're now reliable?”