A group of women took to the streets in the city of Herat in Afghanistan on Saturday, protesting against a Taliban order this week suspending all female students from attending university in the country.
Video footage circulating on social media showed Taliban officials using a water cannon to disperse the female protesters.
Girls could be seen running from the water cannon and chanting “cowards” at officials.
The Taliban’s announcement this week that it was suspending university education for female students was its latest step in an ongoing clampdown on the freedoms of Afghan women.
The move came despite the group promising when it returned to power last year that it would honor women’s rights.
It follows a similar move in March this year that barred girls from returning to secondary schools.
Male students in universities across the country have responded to the latest education ban by boycotting their exams in protest.
“Education is the duty of men and women,” read a statement from the Mirwais Nika Institute of Higher Education in Kandahar issued Saturday. “It is the fundamental right and secret of the country’s development and self-reliance.”
Students had first asked Taliban officials to reverse the ban but “no positive response” was given, the school said – adding that “dissatisfaction and unhappiness” fueled the boycott.
One university official told CNN that the students’ decision to boycott their admissions exams would lead to classes being put on hold.
The Taliban returned to power in Afghanistan in August 2021 in a lightning takeover following the withdrawal of US troops, having previously ruled the country from 1996 until 2001 – when the US-led invasion forced the group from power.
Under its previous period of rule the group was notorious for its treatment of women as second-class citizens.
After seizing power last year, the group made numerous promises that it would protect the rights of women and girls.
But activists say the Taliban have reneged on their word and are steadily chipping away at women’s freedoms once again.
On Saturday, the group ordered all local and international non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in the country to stop female employees from attending work. Non-compliance would result in the revoking of NGO licenses, an official ministry notice read.
A spokesman told CNN the move was due to the non-observation of Islamic dress rules and other laws and regulations of the Islamic Emirate.
Afghan women can no longer work in most sectors.
Their travel rights have also been severely restricted and access to public spaces significantly curtailed. Women are also required to fully cover themselves in public – including their faces.