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Fears of widening gender inequality in Afghanistan have led the Taliban to join Saudi Arabia in calling on the Taliban to open university doors to women.

LONDON: Saudi Arabia has joined the Taliban’s demand to reverse the ban on women’s higher education in Afghanistan. This came a day after the committee ordered women across the country to stop enrolling in private and public universities until further notice.

The Kingdom’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs expressed surprise and sorrow at the decision, which shocked all Muslim countries.

It said the decision denied Afghan women their full legal rights and right to education, which contributes to security, stability, development and prosperity in Afghanistan.

Taliban security forces in the Afghan capital enforced a ban on higher education for women on Wednesday, preventing them from entering universities. The women were filmed crying and comforting each other outside a compound in Kabul.

The Taliban leadership announced the latest crackdown on the rights of women and girls in a scathing statement late Tuesday.

“All of you have been informed to immediately implement the order suspending girls’ education until further notice,” said Neda Mohammad Nadeem, the Taliban’s minister of higher education.

Afghan women staged protests at the university in October after female students were evicted from their hostels. (AFP)

The announcement is just the latest in a series of tough restrictions on Afghan women’s freedoms, which now include mandatory veils and a ban on traveling without a male companion.

According to Afghanistan’s former national security adviser, public frustration with the regime and its repressive policies appears to be echoing the current women-led protest movement in neighboring Iran.

“I think every day the frustration of the Afghan people is increasing because of the repression of the Taliban,” Hamdullah Mohib, the national security adviser to Ashraf Ghani’s ousted Afghan government, told Arab News’ talk show “Speaking Frankly” in October.

“If this situation continues, if this oppression of the Afghan people continues, I am sure there will be a mass mobilization in the country. The question is when.

Governments and religious authorities were quick to condemn the ban on Tuesday. The Organization of Islamic Cooperation said it “severely undermines the government’s credibility”.

Qatar, which played a key role in facilitating talks between the West and the Taliban, said everyone had a right to education and urged Afghanistan’s rulers to reconsider the decision “in accordance with the teachings of Islam”.

Although it rejected the decision, Afghanistan’s neighbor Pakistan said engagement with the Taliban was still the best way forward.

“Despite many setbacks in women’s education and other matters, I still think the easiest path to achieve our goal is through Kabul and the interim government,” Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari said.

The US immediately condemned the ban and warned that the Taliban regime faced further isolation from the rest of the world.

“This decision, contrary to repeated and public assurances the Taliban have made to their own people, should be expected to have a tangible cost to them,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said.

The Taliban have increasingly restricted women’s access to education. (AFP)

“They have seriously, perhaps even dangerously, undermined one of their deepest ambitions … and that is the advancement and improvement of relations with the United States and the rest of the world.

“This unacceptable stance will have significant consequences for the Taliban and further alienate the Taliban from the international community and deny them the legitimacy they seek.”

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is “deeply alarmed” by the ban, his spokesman Stephane Dujarric said on Tuesday.

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbach said she would put the issue on the agenda of the G7 Club of Rich Countries, of which Germany currently holds the presidency.

In the 20 years between the two Taliban regimes, women were allowed to go to school, and women were able to find work in all fields, even though the country remained socially conservative.

The resurgence of the Taliban has dramatically reversed these modest gains. A recent survey of women inside Afghanistan cited by the UN found that only 4 percent of women said they always had enough food to eat, while a quarter said their income had dropped to zero.

Domestic violence and femicide are on the rise, and 57 percent of Afghan girls are married before the age of 19, the study found. There are even cases of families selling their daughters and their belongings to buy food.

The Taliban’s treatment of women will worsen the situation in Afghanistan as a whole. Keeping women out of work costs Afghanistan $1 billion, or up to 5 percent of GDP, according to the UN.

Studies also show that each additional year of schooling can increase an adult woman’s earnings by up to 20 percent, with further impacts on poverty reduction, better maternal health, lower infant mortality, greater HIV prevention and reduced violence against women.

“Even when the Taliban were not in power, the situation for Afghan girls and women was rarely better,” Michael Kugelman, deputy director of the Asia Program and senior fellow for South Asia at the Wilson Center, told Arab News.

“But this rapid succession of restrictions on their dress, movement, work and education is taking them back to a level they haven’t been in since the 1990s, when the Taliban were last in control.

Governments and religious authorities were quick to condemn the ban on Tuesday. (AFP)

“I would argue that things will be worse now than they were in the 1990s, because today, unlike then, the Taliban are in control of the entire country and there are no significant pockets of resistance. The pressure against these kinds of policies will be harder than in the 1990s.

After reaching a peace deal with the Taliban in August 2021, the US averted a hasty withdrawal from Afghanistan. Since then, the country has been mired in economic crisis, poverty and international isolation.

During the talks in Doha, the Taliban sought to convince the world that they had changed from their time in power from 1996 to 2001, when a radical interpretation of Islam saw women and girls barred from education and public life and a widespread crackdown on free speech.

However, upon returning to power, the regime reimposed many such restrictions, erasing two decades of modest progress in women’s rights and the country’s institutional development.

“It’s painful to say, but this result is not surprising,” Kugelman said. For months, the Taliban have been re-implementing their harshest policies since the 1990s, so this is the latest step — and one particularly traumatic for Afghan women and girls — in their ongoing strategy to impose their horrific ideology across society. “

The Taliban initially promised to moderate its extremist stances, saying it would respect human rights obligations, including for women. However, a month after returning to power, the regime imposed gender-segregated university entrances and classrooms and imposed hijabs as part of a mandatory dress code.

Then, on March 23 this year, when girls’ secondary schools were slated to reopen, the Taliban abruptly canceled an order preventing tens of thousands of teenage girls from getting an education. Girls of primary school age are allowed to receive schooling up to the sixth grade, at least for now.

In May, Taliban Supreme Leader Hibatullah Akhundzada ordered women to cover themselves completely, including their faces, in public, stay at home, and travel between cities only with a male companion. In November, a new order banned women from entering parks, amusement parks, gyms and public baths.

There have been conflicting reports from senior officials on the education of women and girls, indicating a split within Taliban ranks between hardliners based in the movement’s Kandahar stronghold and more moderate officials who manage affairs from the capital.

“Of course, many Taliban leaders reject this move,” Kugelman said. “That it still happened is a reflection of ideological divisions within the group and the power of the Kandahar-based Supreme Taliban leader and his allies.

The Taliban leadership announced the latest crackdown on the rights of women and girls in a scathing statement late Tuesday. (AFP)

“They are the most ideologically hardened faction within the Taliban, and this is where power — including veto power to reverse moves made by leaders in Kabul — truly resides.”

Unless the Taliban show they are willing to soften their hardline approach, particularly on matters related to women’s rights, the regime is unlikely to receive billions of dollars in much-needed aid, loans and frozen assets held by the United States, the International Monetary Fund and the International Monetary Fund. World Bank.

“The international community can offer its expressions of solidarity and its condemnation of this action and Afghan women and girls, and that’s the right thing to do. But at the end of the day, it can do little to materially change this tragic situation,” Kugelman said.

“The Taliban are not going to moderate their core ideology, and the top leadership doesn’t care if it closes off opportunities for international financial aid and formal diplomatic recognition. What matters to those fighting within the Taliban is that their core ideology continues to be imposed across the country.

While Kugelman acknowledges widespread opposition among Afghans to the Taliban’s growing control, he doubts civil society has the means — at least for now — to threaten the regime’s authority.

“To be sure, the potential internal resistance is something to look at. We’ve already seen male students walk out of their classrooms in solidarity with their female classmates, and that’s a key data point. Afghanistan may have a patriarchal society, but that country — including its men — wants to avoid this.” It doesn’t make sense,” he said.

“But the question at hand is not a lack of will to resist, but a lack of ability. The Taliban rule with an iron fist, they cannot control protests unless they arise on a large scale, and they will not hesitate to control any protests or opposition to this move.

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