Turkey and Saudi Arabia became the latest Muslim-majority countries to condemn a decision by Taliban authorities to bar women from universities, while about two dozen women staged a protest in the streets of Kabul on Thursday.
In another sign of domestic opposition, several Afghan cricketers condemned the university ban. Cricket is a hugely popular sport in Afghanistan, and players have hundreds of thousands of followers on social media.
The country's Taliban rulers earlier this week ordered women nationwide to stop attending private and public universities effective immediately and until further notice.
They have yet to publicly speak about the ban or react to the global backlash against it, although a spokesman for the Ministry of Higher Education, Ziaullah Hashmi, said in a tweet on Thursday that a news conference would be held this week to explain the move.
Despite initially promising a more moderate rule respecting rights for women and minorities, the Taliban have widely implemented their interpretation of Islamic law, or Sharia, since they seized power in August 2021.
They have banned girls from middle school and high school, barred women from most fields of employment and ordered them to wear head-to-toe clothing in public.
Women are also banned from parks and gyms. At the same time, Afghan society, while largely traditional, has increasingly embraced the education of girls and women over the past two decades.
The latest condemnations of the university ban came from Turkey and Saudi Arabia.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Thursday that the ban was “neither Islamic nor humane.”
Speaking at a joint news conference with his Yemeni counterpart, Cavusoglu called on the Taliban to reverse their decision.
“What harm is there in women's education? What harm does it to do Afghanistan?” Cavusoglu said.
“Is there an Islamic explanation? On the contrary, our religion, Islam, is not against education, on the contrary, it encourages education and science.”
Saudi Arabia, which until 2019 enforced sweeping restrictions on women's travel, employment and other crucial aspects of their daily life including driving, also urged the Taliban to change course.
The Saudi foreign ministry expressed “astonishment and regret” at Afghan women being denied a university education.
In a statement late on Wednesday, the ministry said the decision was “astonishing in all Islamic countries.”
Previously, Qatar, which has engaged with the Taliban authorities, also condemned the decision.
In the capital of Kabul, about two dozen women marched in the streets on Thursday, chanting in Dari for freedom and equality. “All or none. Don't be afraid.
"We are together,” they chanted.
In video obtained by The Associated Press, one woman said Taliban security forces used violence to disperse the group.
“The girls were beaten and whipped,” she said. “They also brought military women with them, whipping the girls. We ran away, some girls were arrested. I don't know what will happen.”
Several Afghan cricketers called for the ban to be lifted.
Player Rahmanullah Garbaz said in a tweet that every day of education wasted was a day wasted in the country's future.
Another cricketer, Rashid Khan, tweeted that women are the foundation of society. “A society that leaves its children in the hands of ignorant and illiterate women cannot expect its members to serve and work hard,” he wrote.
Another show of support for female university students came at Nangarhar Medical University. Local media reported that male students walked out in solidarity and refused to sit exams until women's university access was reinstated.