The United Nations’ special envoy for global education has called on Islamic countries to condemn a move by the Taliban banning female students from universities, the latest in a series of restrictions imposed on women in Afghanistan.
“This is one of the saddest days for those who are concerned with women and girls’ rights,” Gordon Brown said about the decision this week by the Taliban-led Ministry of Higher Education.
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In an interview with Al Jazeera broadcast on Friday, Brown said the Afghan economy would be harmed in the long run if women are not allowed to train as doctors, teachers, researchers, scientists and for other professions.
In the short run, the decision could lead women who have gotten used to being “independent thinkers” would either try to leave the country or submit to these rules, he said.
Brown, who previously served as UK prime minister, noted that while the West had limited leverage over the Taliban-led government following two decades of conflict, Islamic countries could play a vital role in swaying Taliban policies towards greater inclusivity.
“The way we can deal with this is for all our leaders in Muslim countries to protest and to say Islam does not require this,” he said.
In an editorial published in the British newspaper The Guardian, Brown noted that every country in the Muslim world except Taliban-run Afghanistan is publicly committed to the UN sustainable development goal that every child be ensured access to “inclusive and equitable quality education” by 2030.
A number of Muslim countries have already condemned the nationwide ban.
Qatar’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement on Tuesday that the actions would have a substantial effect on Afghanistan’s economy, growth and human rights. Doha called on the interim government of Afghanistan to revisit its decision and apply Islamic principles on women’s rights.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Thursday that the ban was “neither Islamic nor humane”. Speaking at a joint news conference with his Yemeni counterpart, Cavusoglu urged the Taliban to reverse the decision.
“What harm is there in women’s education? What harm does it do to Afghanistan?” Cavusoglu said. “Is there an Islamic explanation? On the contrary, our religion, Islam, is not against education. On the contrary, it encourages education and science.”
The Saudi Ministry of Foreign Affairs expressed “astonishment and regret” at Afghan women being denied a university education. In a statement late on Wednesday, the ministry said the decision was “astonishing in all Islamic countries”.
Since returning to power after US troops withdrew in 2021, the Taliban has backtracked on its promise to guarantee the rights of girls to be educated and other freedoms.
In March, it banned girls from secondary education, later extending the limitations to primary education and finally to higher education.
The group argues its rules are in keeping with its interpretation of Islam.
Female Afghan students protested against the ban on Friday in Kabul as Taliban personnel prevented their access to classrooms.
The protests were quickly shut down by security officials.