Call for Islamic unity against Taliban’s banning of women’s HE

Hiding her tears, Fatima took heavy-hearted steps back home from her medical college in Kabul for an ‘indefinite’ period, as Afghanistan’s Taliban dealt a further blow to women’s rights with a ban on university education. This week the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation called for a global campaign to unite the Islamic world against the Taliban action.

With 57 member states, the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) is the world’s second largest intergovernmental organisation after the United Nations.

At a 29 December meeting of the International Islamic Fiqh Academy, IOC Secretary-General Hissein Brahim Taha slammed the Taliban for preventing the education of girls and women, and dismissing female faculty members "on the pretext that this contradicts Islamic law”, reported the OIC official Twitter feed.

He called on the academy to “quickly launch a global campaign to unite scholars and religious authorities in the Islamic world against the Taliban government’s decision to prevent girls from education, including university education, and its other repercussions, and to explain the true teachings of Islam, which calls for the education of girls”.

Shocking higher education decree

Shocking Afghanistan – and the world – the widely condemned Taliban move came via a decree issued overnight on 20 December, and has sparked protests.

“You all are informed to implement the mentioned order of suspending education of females until further notice,” said the letter signed by Minister of Higher Education Mullah Neda Mohammad Nadeem, directed at all public and private universities and higher education institutions.

Initial uncertainty around whether the decree was fake, faded when ministry spokesperson Ziaullah Hashimi tweeted the letter, confirming the order.

It dashed the few remaining hopes of thousands of Afghan women like Fatima, who have been enduring the hardships of harsh Taliban rule. Less than three months earlier, girls and women wrote university entrance examinations across the country.

The Taliban first took power in Afghanistan in 1996 and quickly moved from a popular movement to a tyrannical nationalist religious regime that introduced oppressive policies against women, political opponents and minorities. In 2001, the Taliban were ousted by the United States for harbouring al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.

Since the violent takeover of Afghanistan by the Taliban in August 2021, after America’s chaotic exit from the country, higher education institutions have had to comply with numerous discriminatory rules including gender-segregated lectures.

In August 2021, most Afghan girls were banned from secondary education. Women must wear full-body coverings and are banned from facilities such as parks and gyms, among other oppressions.

Female life made ‘meaningless’

“My life is meaningless now, without the right to education, the freedom to go out and no dreams to chase,” Fatima, the first-year medical student who did not want to be named, told University World News.

Having narrowly dodged the Taliban’s ban on girls’ high school education, Fatima enrolled in a private university to follow her dreams of becoming doctor for her impoverished south-eastern Paktika province – where there are too few doctors, and hardly any female doctors.

Against all odds, she was hopeful the restrictions would ease, despite countering armed Taliban men everywhere on the way to college and occasionally even inside the premises.

“This is a dead end… we are thrown back to the stone age,” Fatima said after being not allowed to take part in the annual examinations upon Taliban orders.

No reasons have been given by the Taliban for the sudden imposition of the ban, at a time when some of its leaders have been giving signals about a likely reopening of girls’ schools. The leaders include Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanekzai and government spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid, who is also deputy minister of information and culture.

“I was just about to finish my studies when this catastrophe fell on us,” sighed Najiba, a final year student at Kabul University who also did not want to be named in full.


Reeling from the oppressive Taliban, many Afghans have been devastated and angered by the latest serious blow to women’s rights. Fearing the harsh tactics of the Taliban, Afghans are putting up a subtle opposition to the move through symbolic protests.

Male medical students in eastern Nangarhr province staged a mass walkout of classes on 21 December, in solidarity with female classmates. Before embarking on the long walks home, young men and women gathered briefly in the Nangarhr University courtyard and chanted: “All or none”.

The girls hugged each other, cried, and looked back at the university as they left.

There were similar walkouts at other institutions, reported Radio Free Europe-Radio Liberty. For instance, by male students at the Afghan Pamir Higher Education Institute in Kabul, the capital. In southern Kandahar province, around 600 male students at Mirwais Neka University walked out of their classes to protest the ban.

“In the provincial capital, also called Kandahar, male students who walked out of their university classes were reportedly beaten by Taliban fighters, as evidenced by videos sent to RFE/RL's Radio Azadi.”

A number of male academics have resigned to express their opposition to ever-mounting curbs on women in Afghanistan.

“Our dear sisters, mothers and daughters are no longer allowed to study so I am giving up my best job as a teacher in protest,” announced Professor Safi Ullah Samoon of Kandahar University.

“We thought and wished they [Taliban] would learn and evolve but they are getting worse,” a Kabul University arts faculty lecturer, who wished not to be named, told University World News.

About 229 professors from Afghanistan’s three major universities – Kabul, Herat and Balkh – have left the country since the Taliban takeover, according to a BBC Pashto service report.

Away from the clutches of the Taliban, members of a strong Afghan diaspora worldwide have taken a more bold stance to denounce the hard-line Islamists.

Yaseen Hakim, an Afghan-born broadcaster for the BBC, tweeted a video of protests and wrote: “The Taliban have used barbed wire and armed guards to prevent Afghan women from entering universities. Yes, despite the intimidation, they protest alongside brave Afghan men, demanding women and girls be given their basic rights.”

Among the first things the Taliban did after violently taking over Kabul in August 2021 was to abolish the women’s affairs ministry and introduce an array of restrictions on women and girls, to reflect the group’s version of Islamic principles.

‘Gender apartheid’ is anti-Islamic

“It is the responsibility of Muslims around the world to stop the [Taliban] initiatives that tarnish the image of Islam,” Dr Sami Abdul Rahimzai, former head of the Afghan Alumni Association in Australia, told University World News.

“The dialogue on Islamic principles and teachings is a universal phenomenon and it relates to the whole Muslim ummah [community],” he said, urging the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation to take notice.

The OIC already had. Carefully avoiding naming the Taliban, the OIC denounced the bans on girls and women’s education in Afghanistan.

“The OIC, though still committed to its engagement policy with the de facto administration, cannot but denounce the decision, calling on Kabul authorities to reverse it for the sake of maintaining consistency between their promises and actual decisions,” said IOC Secretary-General Hissein Brahim Taha on 21 December.

The IOC said that the move by the Taliban’s higher education ministry was “all the more dismaying” as the secretary-general and his special envoy for Afghanistan “have both repeatedly and insistently cautioned the de facto authorities against taking such a decision”. The latest cautionary message had been relayed by the special envoy during a visit to Kabul last month.

“Suspending access by female students to Afghanistan’s universities, HE Taha believes, will go a long way in seriously denting the credibility of the government in place, just as it will deny Afghan girls and women their fundamental rights to education, employment and social justice.”

Urging the Taliban to “immediately” revoke the decision and reopen girls’ schools, the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan said the entire humanitarian community in country shared the outrage of millions of Afghans and the international community over the decision.

Preventing half of the population from contributing meaningfully to society and the economy will have a devastating impact on the whole country, it warned. Excluding females from secondary and tertiary education not only denied them the right to education, it also denied Afghan society the benefit of the contributions women and girls have.

“It denies all of Afghanistan a future.”

The steps taken to exclude women and girls from education, the workplace and other areas of life increased the risks of forced and underage marriage, violence and abuse.

Many countries and organisations around the world have condemned the Taliban for worsening discrimination against Afghan women.

Former Afghan president Mohammad Ashraf Ghani urged Afghans to unite against the Taliban. “Unfortunately, the current issue of women’s education and work in the country is very serious, sad, and the most obvious and cruel example of gender apartheid in the 21st century”, tweeted Ghani.

On 25 December, according to Livemint, Khaama Press reported that Mulla Neda Mohammad Nadeem, the higher education minister, had said there was no opposition to barring women from higher education.

He added that the Taliban did not “oppose the education of the new generation but wants to develop a system according to Islamic Sharia law and the values of Afghanistan”.