Taliban bans women from all Afghan universities

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Afghanistan’s Taliban-led government banned women from studying in public and private universities Tuesday, the latest in the extremist group’s ongoing attacks on women’s rights in the nearly year and a half since it took control of the country again after the U.S. withdrawal.

A spokesman for the Ministry of Higher Education announced the suspension, effective immediately and in place until further notice, after a Taliban government meeting, according to the Associated Press.

The announcement came as the United Nations Security Council — which has not recognized the Taliban-run government — met in New York to discuss developments in Afghanistan, where the U.N. estimates some 97 percent of people live in poverty amid dire economic and humanitarian crises compounded by Taliban control.

Speaking to the council as the news broke, Deputy U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Robert Wood condemned “in the strongest terms this absolutely indefensible position.”

“The Taliban cannot expect to be a legitimate member of the international community until they respect the rights of all Afghans, especially the human rights and fundamental freedoms of women and girls,” he added.

British U.N. Ambassador Barbara Woodward said the ban was “another egregious curtailment of women’s rights and a deep and profound disappointment for every single female student,” Reuters reported.

Ziaullah Hashmi, who shared the news in a letter on his personal Twitter account, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The Taliban harshly curtailed women’s freedoms when they ruled most of Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001. The group banned women and girls from studying, barred them from working or leaving their homes without a male relative and mandated that they be in a head-to-toe covering in public. In some cases, the militants publicly executed women who violated their rules based on an extreme interpretation of Islamic law.

After a U.S.-led war toppled the government, Afghan women gradually gained greater access to education, employment and political opportunities.

But the gains suddenly came crashing down in August 2021, when Washington withdrew its last troops and the Taliban swiftly retook control. Despite pledging to have reformed, the group reinstated bans on girls in primary and secondary schools and reimposed its repressive dress code, among other restrictions on women’s employment, movement and everyday lives.

The United States, European Union and United Nations, among others, have imposed sweeping sanctions and funding freezes on Afghanistan and pledged to not recognize the Taliban-led government unless it fundamentally reforms.

“We will continue to work with this Council to speak with one voice on this issue,” Wood said Tuesday.

“The Taliban are making it clear every day that they don’t respect the fundamental rights of Afghans, especially women,” tweeted Fereshta Abbasi, a researcher with New York-based Human Rights Watch, on Tuesday.

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