The latest severe blow to women’s rights under a Taliban administration that has all but reinstituted the strict rule the group maintained during its first stretch in power during the 1990s came on Tuesday when the Afghan government banned women from attending private and public universities, according to officials. This move was the latest in a series of severe blows to women’s rights.
The move also confirms that the Taliban’s leadership has cast aside any intention to moderate. In recent weeks, the newly elected administration has imposed Sharia law, carried out public floggings around the nation, and carried out at least one public execution.
All of this is likely to put at risk the infusion of urgently needed humanitarian help that has brought Afghanistan back from the brink of hunger even as the country struggles to recover from a catastrophic economic collapse.
Afghan women who had been raised in an era of relative opportunity, but who have seen those rights gradually eroded ever since the Western-backed government collapsed in the late summer of 2021, were devastated by the news that was delivered in a letter from the higher education ministry on Tuesday and confirmed by the ministry’s spokesman to The New York Times.
The new administration reneged on pledges made in March to enable females to attend public high schools, with authorities stating they needed more time to establish a plan for the schools to reopen in line with Islamic law. However, the government did vow to allow boys to attend public high schools. Because colleges maintained their policy of allowing women to enrol in courses, many young women who were still in high school maintained the belief that their schools would eventually be allowed to reopen.
19-year-old Farhanaz, who asked to be identified only by her first name out of fear of retribution, stated that after the Taliban took power in Afghanistan a year ago, she nearly lost her motivation to study as she watched the new government roll out a flood of edicts rolling back women’s freedoms. She said she feared for her safety as she watched the new government roll out the edicts.
Girls were not allowed into high schools, and women were not permitted in public areas such as parks. Women who were seen out in public without full body coverings, such as burqas and headpieces, were publicly reprimanded by members of a morality police force that had taken to the streets.
According to Farhanaz, she and her friends had clung to the hope that the new government would eventually return to its early pledges to moderate and allow women to retain a place in society. This was the case even though officials were working hard to gain international recognition for their administration.
Then, on Tuesday, a letter written by Hafez Ziaullah Hashemi, the spokesperson for the Ministry of Higher Education, started circulating on social media. The letter instructed private and public colleges to stop allowing women to attend university lectures until further notice. Mr. Hashemi said that the decision was taken by the cabinet of the new administration and required universities to notify the ministry after they had dismissed all female students. He also stated that the decision was made by the new government.
The information was heartbreaking for both Farhanaz and her sister, who is 18 years old and had just been admitted to a psychology programme at a university. She stated that her sister had shut herself in her room and was bawling her eyes out after hearing the news.
While the rest of the world was learning about the most recent conservative government ruling, another decision was being made: Mr. Price reported that Afghan officials had released two Americans who had been detained in the country in what appeared to be a gesture of good will toward the United States. Mr. Price did not reveal the identities of the liberated Americans, and he said that their release was not the result of a prisoner or detainee exchange, nor was there any ransom or money involved in the matter.
The ruling on women’s rights was additional evidence that ideological hard-liners within the Taliban movement are exerting their influence over those who have urged moderation and engagement with the international community. This was demonstrated by the fact that those who urged moderation and engagement with the international community were overruled by the ruling.
Since the first month of Taliban governance began in August of last year, initial promises by officials to preserve the right to education and employment for women have given way to increasingly conservative edicts. These increasingly conservative edicts have been issued by Sheikh Haibatullah Akhundzada, the supreme leader of the Taliban movement.
Sheikh Haibatullah, who is located in Kandahar, the southern stronghold of the Taliban organisation, has nominated loyalists to government offices (including the ministries of education and higher education), and he has sought advice from clerics who adhere to an ultraconservative ideology.