Blinken accuses Taliban of condemning Afghan women to ‘a dark future’ after university ban

Secretary of State Antony Blinken has condemned the Taliban for stopping women attending universities, adding his voice to a sea of international and domestic criticism saying the nation will fail if it retains such a ban on higher education.

“What you’ve already heard is a chorus of condemnation from around the world, not only from us, but from other countries [on] virtually every continent, including Muslim countries, which is in and of itself important and powerful,” he said.

He added: “What they’ve done is to try to sentence Afghan women and girls to a dark future without opportunity. And the bottom line is, no country is going to be able to succeed, much less thrive, if it denies half its population the opportunity to contribute.”

Mr Blinken, speaking on Thursday at an end of year press conference in Washington DC, levelled the criticism at the militants after the Taliban authorities in Afghanistan announced a ban on women attending higher education.

The move triggered condemnation inside the country and outside. When the Taliban seized power in August 2021, it claimed it would oversee a more moderate form of rule than it carried out a generation earlier.

Senior Taliban officials insisted there would be more respect for women’s rights.

Taliban treatment of women may amount to crime against humanity, says UN

Instead, there has been a slow and steady implementation of a harsh interpretation of Sharia law.

Girls have been banned from going to middle school and high school, women have been barred from most fields of employment and ordered to wear head-to-toe clothing in public. Women are also banned from parks and gyms.

While Afghanistan has long been a conservative country, the education of girls and young women that took place during the 20 years of occupation by US and Western forces after a 2001 invasion was widely welcomed.

Indeed, when the US agreed decided to withdraw its troops in 2021, critics of the move pointed to the advances that women had made, and how such advances would be reversed.

Mr Blinken suggested the Taliban would not be accepted by the broader international community, something it is seeking, if such bans were enforced.

“To be clear, and we’re engaged with other countries on this right now, there are going to be costs if this is not reversed, if this is not changed,” he said. “I’m not going to detail them today, but we will pursue them in coordination with allies and partners.”

He added: “Any prospect the Taliban seeks for improved relations with the world, with the international community, which is something that they want and we know they need, that is not going to happen if they continue on this course.”

The Taliban this week defended the move. The Associated Press reported the minister of higher education in the Taliban government, Nida Mohammad Nadim, said the ban was necessary to prevent the mixing of genders in universities.

Criticism of move has taken place inside and outside Afghanistan

(Getty Images)

In an interview with Afghan television, Mr Nadim rejected international condemnation, including from Muslim-majority countries such as Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Qatar, saying foreigners should stop interfering in Afghanistan’s  affairs.

There has also been criticism inside the country. In the capital, Kabul, two dozen women marched in the streets chanting for freedom and equality.

“All or none. Don’t be afraid. We are together,” they chanted, according to a video obtained by the AP.

There was an additional show of support for female students at Nangarhar Medical University. The local media reported male students walked out in solidarity and refused to sit for exams until women’s university access was restored.

On Thursday, the foreign ministers of the G7 group of states urged the Taliban to rescind the ban, warning that “gender persecution may amount to a crime against humanity”.


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