The Taliban warns that women cannot take entrance exams at universities

ISLAMABAD (AP) – The Taliban on Saturday doubled down on their ban on women’s education, reinforcing in a message to private universities that Afghan women are barred from taking university entrance exams, according to a spokesman.

The memo comes despite weeks of condemnation and lobbying by the international community for a reversal of measures limiting women’s freedoms, including two back-to-back visits this month by several senior UN officials. It also bodes ill for hopes that the Taliban might take steps to reverse their edicts anytime soon.

The Taliban banned women from private and public universities last month. The minister of higher education in the Taliban-run government, Nida Mohammed Nadim, has argued that the ban is necessary to prevent the mixing of the sexes at universities – and because he believes that some subjects taught violate Islamic principles.

Work was underway to fix these problems and universities would reopen to women once they were resolved, he said in a television interview.

The Taliban have made similar promises about middle and high school access for girls, saying classes would resume for them once “technical issues” around uniforms and transport were sorted out. But girls remain locked out of classrooms beyond the sixth grade.

Higher Education Ministry spokesman Ziaullah Hashmi said on Saturday that a letter reminding private universities not to allow women to take entrance exams was sent out. He gave no further details.

A copy of the letter, shared with The Associated Press, warned that women could not take “the entrance exam for the bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral levels” and that if a university does not obey the edict, “legal action will be taken against the violator.”

The letter was signed by Mohammad Salim Afghan, the authority that oversees student affairs at private universities.

Entrance exams start on Sunday in some provinces, while elsewhere in Afghanistan they begin on February 27. Universities across Afghanistan follow a different timetable due to seasonal differences.

Mohammed Karim Nasari, spokesman for the Union of Private Universities, said last month that dozens of private universities were at risk of closure due to the ban.

Afghanistan has 140 private universities in 24 provinces, with around 200,000 students. Of these, around 60,000 to 70,000 are women. The universities employ around 25,000 people.

Earlier this week, UN humanitarian chief Martin Griffiths and leaders of two major international aid organizations visited Afghanistan, following last week’s visit by a delegation led by the UN’s highest-ranking woman, UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed. The visits had the same goal – to try to reverse the Taliban’s attacks on women and girls, including their ban on Afghan women working for national and global humanitarian organizations.

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