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Afghanistan: Taliban’s Outrageous Exclusion Of Women & Girls From Universities Is Disastrous For Everyone

GENEVA (21 December 2022) -- UN experts* today condemned in the strongest terms the latest decision of the Taliban that excludes women and girls from universities, a further violation of their human rights and the application of multiple irrational restrictions that may amount to gender persecution, a crime against humanity. Their statement is as follows:

“Yesterday’s announcement of cabinet decision number 28 to immediately suspend until further notice women and girls from universities across the country is a flagrant violation of their human rights enshrined in multiple international treaties, to which Afghanistan is a signatory and will lead to disastrous consequences for Afghans. We understand that only the Amir, Sheikh Haibatullah, and a handful of close advisers are seeking to deny education to women and girls beyond primary level, as was the situation that pertained when the Taliban were last in power in the 1990s. Most Afghans, including some Taliban, do not support the exclusion of women and girls from the education system, and are seriously concerned about the consequences for the whole nation. It is unparalleled globally and Afghan and other Islamic scholars say there is no religious or cultural justification for it.

Denying women and girls their right to education will lead to significantly reduced opportunities for them, immense psychological impacts on their mental health, and poorer wellbeing. It will severely limit women’s access to economic opportunities and resources, which will have an adverse impact on their families, communities and the nation as a whole. Educating women and girls lays the foundation for women’s economic empowerment, and is fundamental to achieving gender equality. Without educated women, there will be fewer professionals to serve the population and take Afghanistan forward to prosperity. For example, without women doctors, women and girls will not receive adequate medical care as the de facto authorities restrict male physicians from treating women and girls. Without women teachers, who previously made up 82 per cent of the Ministry of Education staff, children’s learning will suffer. Without women lawyers, women and their families will not have equal access to justice. The intergenerational impacts of such a restriction will be profound and disastrous for Afghanistan.

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We urgently call on the de facto authorities to immediately restore access to education at all levels for women and girls and to instruct schools and universities across the country to immediately and unconditionally accept female students in all courses. We urge the Taliban to stop using women and girls’ safety as a pretext for imposing severe and disproportionate restrictions on them and instead address the root cause of violence and discrimination against women and girls – namely the behaviour and attitudes of men who view them inferior and subordinate to men and boys.

The attempts by the Taliban to erase women and girls from all spheres of public life and to silence the voices of women and girls will likely have severe consequences on peace and security beyond Afghanistan. It is also a serious challenge to the United Nations’ women, peace and security agenda and to women’s rights and gender equality globally. We call on the international community to take a strong stand in defence of women everywhere and to adopt policies and judicial actions proportionate to the Taliban’s discriminatory actions whilst steadfastly supporting Afghan women to enjoy all their human rights, including the right of equal access to education at all levels.’’

*The Experts: Richard Bennett, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Afghanistan; Saad Afarargi, Special Rapporteur on the right to development; Alexandra Xanthaki, Special Rapporteur on cultural rights; Fionnuala Ní Aoláin, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism; Tlaleng Mofokeng, Special Rapporteur on the Right of everyone to the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health; Michael Fakhri, Special Rapporteur on the right to food; Olivier De Schutter, Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights; Dorothy Estrada Tanck (Chair), Ivana Radačić (Vice-Chair), Elizabeth Broderick, Meskerem Geset Techane and Melissa Upreti, Working Group on discrimination against women and girls; Margaret Satterthwaite, Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers; Gerard Quinn, Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities; Clément Nyaletsossi Voule, Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association; Reem Alsalem, Special Rapporteur on violence against women and girls, its causes and consequences; Farida Shaheed, Special Rapporteur on the right to education; Nazila Ghanea, Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief; Irene Khan, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression.

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