Afghanistan’s Taliban rulers, on Tuesday, banned university education for women nationwide as the Islamists continue to crush women’s right to education and freedom in the country.
Despite promising a softer rule when they seized power last year, the Taliban has ratcheted up restrictions on all aspects of women’s lives, ignoring international outrage.
“You all are informed to immediately implement the mentioned order of suspending education of females until further notice,” said a letter issued to all government and private universities and signed by the Minister for Higher Education, Neda Mohammad Nadeem.
The spokesman for the ministry, Ziaullah Hashimi, who tweeted the letter, confirmed the order in a text message to AFP.
Washington condemned the decision “in the strongest terms”.
“The Taliban should expect that this decision, which is in contravention to the commitments they have made repeatedly and publicly to their own people, will carry concrete costs for them,” State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters in Washington.
The ban on higher education comes less than three months after thousands of girls and women sat university entrance exams across the country, with many aspiring to choose teaching and medicine as future careers.
The universities are currently on winter break and due to reopen in March.
After the takeover of the country by the Taliban, universities were forced to implement new rules including gender-segregated classrooms and entrances, while women were only permitted to be taught by women professors or old men.
Most teenage girls across the country have already been banned from secondary school education, severely limiting university intake.
Journalism student Madina, who wanted only her first name published, struggled to comprehend the weight of Tuesday’s order.
“I have nothing to say. Not only me but all my friends have no words to express our feelings,” the 18-year-old told said in Kabul.
“Everyone is thinking about the unknown future ahead of them. They buried our dreams.”
The country was returning to “dark days”, added medicine student Rhea in the capital, who asked that her name be changed.
“When we were hoping to make progress, they are removing us from the society,” the 26-year-old said.
The United Nations is “deeply concerned” by the order, said Ramiz Alakbarov, UN chief’s deputy special representative for Afghanistan.
“Education is a fundamental human right. A door closed to women’s education is a door closed to the future of Afghanistan,” he tweeted.
The Taliban adheres to an austere version of Islam, with the movement’s supreme leader Hibatullah Akhundzada and his inner circle of Afghan clerics against modern education, especially for girls and women.
But they are at odds with many officials in Kabul and among their rank and file who had hoped girls would be allowed to continue learning following the takeover.
“There are serious differences in the Taliban ranks on girls’ education and the latest decision will increase these differences,” a Taliban commander based in northwest Pakistan told AFP on condition of anonymity.
In a cruel U-turn, the Taliban in March blocked girls from returning to secondary schools on the morning they were supposed to reopen.
Several Taliban officials say the secondary education ban is only temporary, but they have also wheeled out a litany of excuses for the closure – from a lack of funds to time needed to remodel the syllabus along Islamic lines.
Since the ban, many teenage girls have been married off early –often to much older men of their father’s choice.
Several families interviewed by AFP last month said coupled with economic pressure the school ban meant that securing their daughters’ future through marriage was better than them sitting idle at home.