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Equality Now’s statement on the announcement of the Taliban to ban women from attending universities in Afghanistan

Equality Now is deeply concerned at the announcement of the Taliban Minister of Higher Education on December 20, 2022, to ban women from attending universities in Afghanistan. We are further concerned about some reports which claim that primary schools are also included in the ban, which would effectively institute a total ban on the education of girls and women in all education settings. This move is yet another example of measures instigated under the Taliban rule to systematically and institutionally erode women and girls’ access to their basic rights, including education, employment, and culture. 

Taliban authorities already took punitive measures in March 2022 by forbidding girls from accessing school beyond the sixth grade and failing to determine measures to ensure their swift return to education. The school ban denying girls the right to higher education aggravates the already imposed ban on women and girls accessing public spaces, such as parks, gyms, and public baths. A clear message has been reinforced: Women are not equal, respected, or valuable members of Afghan society.  

Such retrogressive policies are a violation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and Afghanistan’s international commitments under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) and the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). 

These discriminatory policies by the Taliban de-facto government have eroded all the gains made by Afghan women who contributed significantly to Afghanistan’s culture, economy, and prosperity. This reversal is occurring at an alarming rate and has put women and girls at risk of gender-based violence and harmful practices, including forced marriage, domestic violence, and harassment. 

Over the years, several Islamic women’s rights movements have challenged the notion that girls should be excluded from receiving an education by quoting Islamic prophets who have cited the Quran and the Hadith that emphasize the importance of acquiring knowledge for both men and women. We strongly condemn the Taliban for subjugating Afghan government officials who have maintained that Islam mandates that education is the right of every person. Of note is the firing of Noorullah Munir, the former education minister who supported girls’ education under Islam.

Since the Taliban imposed this ban, governments, including Qatar, Turkey, and Pakistan, have condemned the Taliban authorities’ decision. These countries have urged them to reconsider suspending university and higher education for female students and have emphasized that men and women have the inherent right to education under the injunctions of Islam. More governments need to come out and condemn the denial of Afghan girls and women’s access to education and participation in public life, free from discrimination. 

According to UNICEF, girls represent 60% of the 3.7 million children out of school. The impact of such discriminatory measures on this and future generations of Afghan women and girls will be incalculable. These policies will detrimentally affect the rest of the population, the economy, and the international standing of Afghanistan, which will inevitably suffer without the invaluable contribution of women. 

In solidarity with the women and girls of Afghanistan, we call for the following: 

  1. Support by the international community, and in particular neighboring countries, to condemn these measures as anti-Islamic and a violation of international human rights and use all peaceful means to support Afghan women; 
  2. Support by the international community to find ways to provide opportunities for the continuation of women’s and girls’ education;
  3. Immediate revocation of the ban on girls and women’s education. Women and girls should have the same level of access to education as men and boys at all levels;
  4. End to all measures which prevent women and girls from participating fully in public life, free from all forms of discrimination, including gender-based violence;