Taliban’s minister of higher education announced on Tuesday a Taliban-instituted ban on women and girls attending universities in Afghanistan. 

The ban takes immediate effect, meaning that women currently enrolled at university will have to give up their studies.

In March, the Taliban said they would reopen high schools to girls, but canceled the move at the last moment, maintaining a ban that has been in place since last September. 

The group’s move to ban women from universities received international condemnation. 

“The Taliban cannot expect to be a legitimate member of the international community until they respect the rights of all in Afghanistan,” said a statement by U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken. “No country can thrive when half of its population is held back.”

The move is “a new low, further violating the right to equal education and deepens the erasure of women from Afghan society,” the United Nations’ Special Rapporteur to Afghanistan said.

Women in Afghanistan tried to stage several protests on Wednesday, including in the capital city.

“Today we come out on the streets of Kabul to raise our voices against the closure of the girls’ universities,” protesters from the Afghanistan Women’s Unity and Solidarity group said before the Taliban shut down their protest. 

Female students said the move has destroyed their future. 

“They destroyed the only bridge that could connect me with my future,” one Kabul University student said. “How can I react? I believed that I could study and change my future or bring the light to my life, but they destroyed it.”

Another female student who had been studying Islamic Law said she had “lost everything.”

“They have to go to other Islamic countries and see that their actions are not Islamic,” she said.

The ban is just the latest restriction aiming to remove women from general society in Afghanistan, confining them to the home and making them second-class citizens in their own country. 

The Taliban already banned women from working in most jobs, but last month women were even barred from entering parks in Kabul and from using swimming pools and gyms. The bans are expected to be extended to all of Afghanistan. 

The restrictions have prompted some women to work out at clandestine gyms, hidden in basements with blacked-out windows.

“Women can’t go to restaurants and cultural events by themselves any more, or even walk alone in the park, so these underground gyms are like a beacon of hope for us,” one Afghani gym instructor said. “This is the only place they can connect with their past and feel alive. Coming to the gym is like therapy. Even though we can’t play music, we still dance – but now we dance in headphones.”

Like in Iran, Afghanistan has a “morality police” – known as the Ministry for the Propagation of Virtue and Prevention of Vice. In November, ministry spokesman Mohammad Akif Muhajir defended banning women from parks in Kabul.

“For 15 months, we gave our sisters the opportunity to enjoy going to parks. We had told women to follow the practice of wearing the hijab [headscarf] but some were not doing that. We had separate days for men and women to go to the park but that was not being observed,” he said. 

Muhajir said that those who protested against the ban would be “silenced.”

“In every country, anyone raising a voice against government orders is arrested. In some countries, they have even been killed. We have not done that. But, naturally, if someone raises their voice against the national interest, they will be silenced,” Muhajir said.

Talking about the ban on university attendance, a university lecturer and Afghan activist in the U.S. Humaira Qaderi said the Taliban’s isolation of women is now complete, turning the country into a prison for women. 

“This was the last thing the Taliban could do. Afghanistan is not a country for women but instead a cage for women,” she said. 

It is not clear what will happen to women who are caught going against the Taliban’s oppresive restrictions, but the Taliban recently resumed the penalty of public flogging, last used during their rule from 1996-2001. 

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