The Taliban government has suspended university education for all female students in Afghanistan, the latest step in its brutal clampdown on the rights and freedoms of Afghan women.
A spokesman for the Afghan Ministry of Higher Education confirmed the suspension to CNN on Tuesday. A letter published by the education ministry said the decision was made in a cabinet meeting and the order will go into effect immediately.
Girls were barred from returning to secondary schools in March, after the Taliban ordered schools for girls to shut just hours after they were due to reopen following months long closures imposed after the Taliban takeover in August 2021.
Human Rights Watch criticized the ban on Tuesday, calling it a “shameful decision that violates the right to education for women and girls in Afghanistan.”
“The Taliban are making it clear every day that they don’t respect the fundamental rights of Afghans, especially women,” the rights watchdog said in a statement.
The US condemns “the Taliban’s indefensible decision to ban women from universities,” State Department spokesperson Ned Price said during a Tuesday briefing.
The Taliban’s recent decision, he said, will “have significant consequences for the Taliban and will further alienate the Taliban from the international community and deny them the legitimacy they desire.”
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The March closure of secondary schools to girls had a “significant impact” on US engagement with Taliban representatives, Price added.
“With the implementation of this decree, half of the Afghan population will soon be unable to access education beyond primary school,” he said.
US Ambassador Robert Wood, the alternate representative for special political affairs, earlier reiterated those criticisms, telling a United Nations’ Security Council briefing that 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.”
The Taliban, which ruled over Afghanistan from 1996 until 2001, when the US-led invasion forced the group from power, have historically treated women as second-class citizens, subjecting them to violence, forced marriages and a near-invisible presence in the country.
After seizing power in Afghanistan last year, the Taliban attempted to project a more moderate image to gain international support.
But while it has has made numerous promises to the international community that it would protect the rights of women and girls, the Taliban has been doing the opposite, systematically clamping down on their rights and freedoms.
Women in Afghanistan can no longer work in most sectors, require a male guardian for long-distance travel and have been ordered to cover their faces in public.
They have also imposed limits on girls’ education, banning women from certain workplaces as they stripped away rights they had fought tirelessly for over the last two decades.
In November, Afghan women prevented from entering amusement parks in Kabul as the government announced restrictions on women being able to access public parks, Reuters reports.
CNN’s Richard Roth and Niamh Kennedy contributed to this report.