February 4, 2023

Rishi Sunak has warned the Taliban that “the world is watching” after it banned women in Afghanistan from attending university.

Taliban security forces in Kabul have barred women from universities after the group on Tuesday instructed public and private universities across the country to immediately suspend access for female students until further notice.

The decision was made by the cabinet of the Taliban-led government, but it has not given any reason and so far has not responded to global condemnation.

On Wednesday, Mr Sunakwho has two young daughters added his criticism when he tweeted: “As a father of daughters I can’t imagine a world where they are denied an education.

“The women of Afghanistan have so much to offer. Denying them access to university is a big step backwards.

“The world is watching. We will judge the Taliban by their actions.”

The Taliban initially promised a more moderate rule that respects the rights of women and minorities, but the group has widely applied their interpretation of Islamic – or Sharia – law since taking power last August.

In March, the Taliban made a U-turn to open all middle and high schools to girls.

The international community, including the US and Britain, has not officially recognized the de facto government.

Washington said a change in women’s education policies is needed before it can consider formally recognizing the government, which is subject to heavy sanctions.

Female students walk in front of Kabul Education University in Kabul, Afghanistan
Female students are no longer admitted to their universities

Secretary of State James Cleverly also condemned the latest move, tweeting: “Simply abhorrent.

“The Taliban’s decision to prevent women from attending university shows their complete disregard for fundamental freedoms.

“The UK is working with our G7 partners to convict and hold those responsible to account.”

Barbara Woodward, the UK’s UN ambassador, said the latest suspension was “another blatant curtailment of women’s rights and a deep and profound disappointment for every female student”.

She told the council: “It is also another step by the Taliban away from a self-sufficient and prosperous Afghanistan.”

A senior British diplomat involved in ongoing talks with the Taliban told Sky News the ban was a huge setback to the talks.

“It’s a big blow to the country, diplomatic relations and most importantly the people,” they said.

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Fear about the education of Afghan girls

The confirmation of the university restrictions came on the same night that the UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Afghanistan, Roza Otunbayeva, said the closure of schools had “undermined” the Taliban government’s relationship with the international community.

Speaking at a UN Security Council session on Afghanistan, she said: “As long as girls are excluded from school and the de facto authorities continue to ignore other concerns expressed by the international community, we will remain in a sort of impasse.”

US Deputy UN Ambassador Robert Wood said: “The Taliban cannot expect to be a legitimate member of the international community until they respect the rights of all Afghans, especially human rights and the fundamental freedom of women and girls. “

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