The Taliban use water cannons against women protesting university bans


KABUL, Afghanistan – Taliban security forces used a water cannon to disperse women protesting a ban on university education for women on Saturday, eyewitnesses said, as the decision by the Taliban-led government continues to cause outrage and opposition in Afghanistan and beyond.

The development came after Afghanistan’s Taliban rulers on Tuesday banned female students from attending universities with immediate effect. Afghan women have since demonstrated in major cities against the ban, a rare sign of domestic protests since the Taliban took power last year.

According to eyewitnesses in the western city of Herat, about two dozen women on Saturday were on their way to the provincial governor’s house to protest the ban, chanting: “Education is our right,” when they were pushed back by security forces who fired water cannons.

Video shared with The Associated Press shows the women screaming and hiding on a side street to escape the water cannon. They then resume their protest, with chants of “Shameful!”

One of the protest organizers, Maryam, said between 100 and 150 women took part in the protest, moving in small groups from different parts of the city towards a central meeting point. She did not give her last name for fear of reprisals.

“There was security on every street, every square, armored vehicles and armed men,” she said. “When we started our protest, in Tariqi Park, the Taliban took branches from the trees and beat us. But we continued our protest. They increased their security presence. Around 11 o’clock they brought out the water cannon.”

A spokesman for the provincial governor, Hamidullah Mutawakil, claimed there were only four or five protesters. “They had no agenda, they just came here to make a film,” he said, without mentioning the violence against the women or the use of the water cannon.

There has been widespread international condemnation of the university ban, including from Muslim-majority countries such as Saudi Arabia, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar, as well as warnings from the United States and the G-7 group of major industrialized nations that the policy will have consequences for the Taliban.

A Taliban government official, Minister of Higher Education Nida Mohammad Nadim, spoke about the ban for the first time on Thursday in an interview with Afghan state television. He said the ban was necessary to prevent mixing of the sexes at universities and because he believed some subjects taught violated the principles of Islam.

He said the ban will remain in place until further notice.

Despite initially promising a more moderate rule that respects the rights of women and minorities, the Taliban have largely implemented their interpretation of Islamic law, or sharia, since taking power in August 2021.

They have banned girls from middle and high school, barred women from most jobs, and ordered them to wear head-to-toe clothing in public. Women are also banned from parks and gyms. Meanwhile, Afghan society, although largely traditional, has increasingly embraced the education of girls and women over the past two decades.

Also on Saturday, in the southwestern Pakistani city of Quetta, dozens of Afghan refugee students protested the ban on women’s higher education in their homeland and demanded the immediate reopening of campuses to women.

One of them, Bibi Haseena, read a poem depicting the dire situation of Afghan girls seeking an education. She said she was unhappy about graduating outside her country when hundreds of thousands of her Afghan sisters were denied an education.

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