Taliban on Thursday gave clarification on why Afghan women were barred from entering universities in the country, stating that female students were not following instructions regarding proper dress codes.
'Women ignoring Islamic rules in universities'
As per a report published on NDTV, Neda Mohammad Nadeem, the minister for higher education in the Taliban government, said that women had ignored basic Islamic instructions in universities --- including on what to wear or being accompanied by a male relative when travelling.
"Unfortunately after the passing of 14 months, the instructions of the Ministry of Higher Education of the Islamic Emirate regarding the education of women were not implemented," Nadeem was quoted as saying. "They were dressing like they were going to a wedding. Those girls who were coming to universities from home were also not following instructions on hijab," the statement added.
The ban announced earlier this week marked another blow to women's rights in the orthodox Islamic-ruled nation, ever since the Taliban usurped power in August last year.
The move had sparked international outrage, including from Muslim nations, who deemed it against Islam, besides the G7 group of nations, who tagged it as a "crime against humanity."
Spate of restrictions
Women have slowly been squeezed out of public life in Taliban-ruled Afghanistan, with schools being closed, keeping universities out of their reach, pushed out of many government jobs, or being paid a fraction of their salary to stay at home. They are also barred from travelling without a male relative and must cover up in public, and are prohibited from going to parks, fairs, gyms and public baths.
Secondary schools for girls have also been closed across most of the country since March -- also temporarily, according to the Taliban, although they have offered a litany of excuses for why they haven't re-opened in the long span.
Furthermore, the authorities had also closed those madrassas that were teaching only women students but were housed inside mosques.
Nadeem also said some science subjects were not suitable for women. "Engineering, agriculture and some other courses do not match the dignity and honour of female students and also Afghan culture," he stressed.
Despite promising a softer rule when they seized power more than a year ago, the Taliban have ratcheted up restrictions on all aspects of women's lives. Ever since the Taliban seized control, universities were forced to implement new rules including gender-segregated classrooms and entrances, while women were only permitted to be taught by professors of the same sex, or old men.
Global outrage against treatment of women
The Taliban's policies for restricting women's movement and education has drawn flak from various international bodies, including the Group of Seven industrialised nations, whose ministers strongly condemned the ban on female students in universities and demanded a speedy revocation.
"Gender persecution may amount to a crime against humanity under the Rome Statute, to which Afghanistan is a state party," the ministers said in a statement, referring to the International Criminal Court in The Hague.
In fact, globally, many countries and bodies have made women's treatment and right to education in Afghanistan a key point of negotiation in engaging with or recognising the Taliban regime. "Taliban policies designed to erase women from public life will have consequences for how our countries engage with the Taliban," the statement reads.
Saudi Arabia too expressed "astonishment and regret" at the ban, urging the Taliban to reverse it.
India on Thursday also joined several other leading countries in criticising the Taliban's decision to ban university education for women in Afghanistan, and renewed its call for setting up of an inclusive government in Kabul that ensures equal rights of women in all aspects of the Afghan society.
Several countries including the US, Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Japan and the United Kingdom have strongly condemned the Taliban's latest step in its brutal crackdown on the freedom of Afghan women and girls.
Talibani ministers have, however, hit back at the international community, saying it should "not interfere in Afghanistan's internal affairs."
Rare women-led protests against the Taliban regime
Earlier on Thursday, Afghan women staged a protest against the ban in Kabul. "They expelled women from universities. Oh, the respected people, support, support. Rights for everyone or no one!" chanted the protesters as they rallied in a Kabul neighbourhood, NDTV reported.
A protester at the rally told AFP "some of the girls" had been arrested by women police officers. Two were later released and two remained in custody, she added, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Women-led protests have turned increasingly rare in the country since August 2021, particularly after the Taliban detained core activists at the start of this year. Protesters risk arrest, violence and stigma from their families for joining the march against the orthodox regime.
The authorities have also reportedly taken to public floggings of men and women in recent weeks, as they implement a radical interpretation of Islamic sharia law.
The Taliban propagate an austere version of Islam, with the movement's supreme leader, Hibatullah Akhundzada, and his inner circle of clerics
voicing opposition against modern education, especially for girls and women.
In the 20 years between the Taliban's two reigns, girls were allowed to go to school and women were able to seek employment in all sectors, though the country remained socially conservative.