© Reuters. Afghan women chant slogans in protest against the closure of universities to women by the Taliban in Kabul, Afghanistan, December 22, 2022. REUTERS/Stringer
KABUL (Reuters) – Dozens of women gathered outside Kabul University on Thursday to protest in the first major public demonstration in the capital since the Taliban’s decision to close universities to female students.
Female university students were turned away the previous day from campuses after the Taliban-run administration said on Tuesday that women would be suspended from tertiary education.
According to witnesses, about 50 mainly female protestors assembled while holding banners and chanted: “Education is our right, universities should be opened.”
The Taliban-led administration had already drawn criticism including from foreign governments for not opening girls’ high schools at the start of the school year in March, making a U-turn on signals it would do so.
The backlash towards restrictions on female education is complicating the Taliban-led administration’s efforts to gain formal recognition and the lifting of sanctions that are hampering the economy, diplomats say.
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.
A heavy security presence has been present in the Afghan capital, including at gatherings at universities, in recent days.
A spokesperson for Afghanistan’s higher education ministry said its minister would hold a press conference on Thursday or Friday to “to elaborate more on the closure of universities for women.”
The previous day students in Nangahar University in eastern Afghanistan also protested and male medical students walked out of exams protest at their female classmates being excluded.
“The female students came and asked (the male students) not to sit exams as we are not allowed to,” said 25-year-old Zia, a male medical student at Nangahar. “The male students demonstrated courage and left the exam site.”