Afghanistan’s Taliban rulers have ordered an indefinite ban on university education for the country’s women, the ministry of higher education said in a letter issued to all government and private universities.
“You all are informed to implement the mentioned order of suspending education of females until further notice,” said the letter signed by the minister for higher education, Neda Mohammad Nadeem.
The ministry’s spokesperson, Ziaullah Hashimi, who tweeted the letter, confirmed the order in a text message to Agence France-Presse.
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 engineering and medicine as future careers.
After the takeover of Afghanistan by the hardline Islamists in August last year, universities were forced to implement new rules including gender-segregated classrooms and entrances, and women were only permitted to be taught by female professors or old men.
Most Afghan teenage girls have already been banned from secondary school education, severely limiting university intake.
The Taliban adhere to an austere version of Islam, with the movement’s supreme leader, Hibatullah Akhundzada, and his inner circle of Afghan clerics opposed to modern education, particularly for girls and women.
But they are at odds with many officials in Kabul and some of their rank and file, who had hoped girls would be allowed to continue learning after the takeover.
Women have been pushed out of many government jobs or are being paid a slashed salary to stay at home. They are also barred from travelling without a male relative, and must cover up outside the home, ideally with a burqa.
In November they were prohibited from going to parks, funfairs, gyms and public baths.
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 have given 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.
Coupled with economic pressure, several families interviewed by AFP last month said that securing their daughters’ future through marriage was better than them sitting idle at home.
The international community has made the right to education for all women a sticking point in negotiations over aid and recognition of the Taliban regime.
“The international community has not and will not forget Afghan women and girls,” the UN security council said in a statement in September.
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.