Turkey and Saudi Arabia have strongly condemned the Taliban’s nationwide ban on women from attending private and public universities.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Cavusoglu said on Thursday that the ban was “neither Islamic nor humane.”
At a joint press conference with his Yemeni counterpart, Cavusoglu called on the Taliban to reverse the decision.
“What is the damage to women’s education? What damage is it doing to Afghanistan? “Cavusoglu said. “Is there an Islamic explanation? On the contrary, our religion, Islam, is not against education; on the contrary, it promotes education and science.”
The Saudi Foreign Ministry expressed “astonishment and regret” that Afghan women were denied higher education. In a statement late Wednesday, the ministry said the decision was “astonishing in all Islamic countries.”
They were the latest majority-Muslim countries to do so after Qatar, which has served as a mediator between the United States and the Taliban, criticized the decision.
There was also opposition to the ban domestically. A dozen women protested on the streets of the Afghan capital Kabul on Thursday and sang for freedom and equality. “It’s all or nothing. Don’t be afraid We’re together,” they sang.
Several high-profile cricketers have also condemned the decision on social media. Rashid Khan, the former captain of the national team, tweeted that women are the bedrock of society. “A society that entrusts its children to ignorant and illiterate women cannot expect its members to serve and work hard,” he wrote.
The Taliban took back control of the country in August 2021 after being removed from power by a US-led military coalition two decades earlier.
Afghan society, although largely traditional, had become increasingly committed to the education of girls and women following the fall of the Taliban.
Originally, the Taliban had promised a more moderate regime to respect the rights of women and minorities, but have now introduced their own strict interpretation of religious law.
Since regaining power, it has banned girls from secondary education and blocked women from accessing most areas of employment. Women are also prohibited from entering parks and gyms.
The Taliban have not yet publicly commented on the ban or responded to criticism from other countries. However, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Higher Education, Ziaullah Hashmi, tweeted on Thursday that a press conference would be held this week to explain the decision.
The Turkish and Saudi reactions to the ban are part of growing international criticism.
The UN Special Rapporteur on Afghanistan said on Wednesday that the ban represents “a new low point that continues to violate the right to equal education and aggravates the ostracism of women from Afghan society.”
In a video shared with The Associated Press news agency, a woman said the Taliban security forces used force to disperse a group of demonstrators on Thursday.
“The girls were beaten and whipped,” she said. “They also brought military wives and whipped the girls. We ran away, some girls were arrested. I don’t know what’s going to happen.”
Another sign of support for female students took place at Nangarhar Medical University in Jalalabad. Local media reported that male students left home in solidarity and refused to take exams until access to universities was resumed for women.