The minister of higher education in Afghanistan’s Taliban government has defended his decision to ban women from universities – a decree that triggered a global backlash and protests inside the country.
Afghanistan’s Taliban-run administration announced earlier this week it had closed universities to woman partly due to female students not adhering to its interpretation of the Islamic dress code and interaction between students of different genders.
Female university students were turned away from campuses on Wednesday and the higher education ministry said their access would be suspended “until further notice”. Dozens of women gathered outside Kabul University on Thursday to protest in the first major public demonstration in the capital since the decision.
In the capital, about two dozen women marched in the streets, chanting for freedom and equality. “All or none. Don’t be afraid. We are together,” they chanted.
In video obtained by The Associated Press, one woman said Taliban security forces used violence to disperse the group.
“The girls were beaten and whipped,” she said. “They also brought military women with them, whipping the girls. We ran away, some girls were arrested. I don’t know what will happen.” US secretary of state Antony Blinken said the Taliban were trying to sentence Afghanistan’s women “to a dark future without opportunity” by barring them from attending universities.
In the capital, about 50 mainly female protesters assembled outside Kabul University while holding banners and chanted: “Education is our right, universities should be opened.”
The previous day students in Nangahar University in eastern Afghanistan also protested and male medical students walked out of exams in protest at their female classmates being excluded. Several cricket players have also publicly opposed the ban.
Large-scale protesting has become rare in Afghanistan since the Taliban took over the country, as they are often shut down forcefully by security agencies. The scattered protests that have occurred are a sign of the discontent the Taliban’s policy has generated, advocates say.