On Tuesday, the Taliban banned women from getting an education in universities in Afghanistan. Previously, women were allowed to attend university in gender-segregated schools, although the Taliban had also previously banned girls from sixth grade and up from receiving secondary education.

This new announcement means that in Afghanistan, girls and women will only have access to education until sixth grade. Both the U.S. and international communities have reacted with strong criticism to the decision.

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“The Taliban have systematically rolled back the progress made in that country over the past two decades — progress that was hard-won by fearless women who even now remain undaunted,” said Katrina Lantos Swett, president of the Lantos Foundation for Human Rights and Justice, in a press release sent to the Deseret News. “We see it in Afghanistan; we see it in Iran.”

The higher education minister released the decision in a letter and said that it was effective immediately, according to BBC. Previously, universities had restricted the subjects that would be taught to women, “with veterinary science, engineering, economics and agriculture off limits and journalism severely restricted.”

Rumors had circulated that the Taliban would make this move for a while. CBS News reported that the rumors began when the new leader for the ministry of higher education was chosen, because he is a “Taliban hardliner” and was picked by the supreme leader.

Countries had already withdrawn financial support from the country when the Taliban announced that it would refuse girls further education. BBC reported, “Afghanistan’s economy has been largely dependent on foreign aid in recent decades, but aid agencies have partly — and in some cases fully — withdrawn support to the education sector after the Taliban refused to allow girls into secondary schools.”

Earlier this year, NPR reported, the Taliban announced that girls would be allowed to attend secondary education again with the opening of all-girls high schools. In March, the Taliban went back on that statement and did not open schools for girls, per The New York Times.

“The international community must refuse to acknowledge the Taliban as a legitimate regime in the face of such blatant violations of these rights,” Swett said. “Moreover, more must be done to support and strengthen the courageous Afghan women who refuse to remain silent, even when they face dire consequences from their brutal Taliban leaders.”

The country’s decision to severely restrict education for girls led to a dramatic decrease in university enrollment for women already, according to The Guardian.

According to The Associated Press, this decision will only weaken financial support for the country and will have international ramifications. “Robert Wood, the deputy U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said the Taliban cannot expect to be a legitimate member of the international community until they respect the rights of all Afghans,” the AP reported.

Afghanistan’s seat at the U.N. is currently held by the country’s previous government, even though the Taliban has requested the seat, per The Associated Press. Naseer Ahmed Faiq, Afghanistan’s charge d’affairs, said this new announcement “marks a new low in violation of most fundamental and universal human rights for all of humanity.”

The new restrictions are a significant shift from before the Taliban took power again in 2021. The Guardian reported, “In the 20 years between the Taliban’s two reigns, girls were allowed to go to school and women were able to seek employment in all sectors, although the country remained socially conservative.”

A 26-year-old medicine student in Kabul told The Guardian, “When we were hoping to make progress, they are removing us from the society.”

Women’s rights have been significantly restricted in Afghanistan since the return of the Taliban. The Guardian reported, “Women have been pushed out of many government jobs or are being paid a slashed salary to stay at home. They are also barred from travelling without a male relative, and must cover up outside the home, ideally with a burqa. In November they were prohibited from going to parks, funfairs, gyms and public baths.”

U.N. Women characterized the situation in Afghanistan, saying that women are under “threat of violence” and their rights have been taken away. One Afghan woman, whose name was not printed due to safety concerns, wrote, “Schools are closed for girls — they feel like they have been robbed of their hopes. It is also becoming harder to engage men in the community to protect women against harmful practices and social norms.”

According to the Brookings Institute, only three countries have ever recognized the Taliban as the government of Afghanistan — Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Currently, no countries recognize the Taliban, per CBS News.