Khalaf Al Habtoor offers to help Afghan women finish studies after Taliban university ban

Billionaire philanthropist describes ruling as 'unfortunate and sad' and pledges to work with authorities to support women in Afghanistan

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One of the UAE's leading businessmen has pledged to help 100 Afghan women to relocate to Dubai and complete their studies in the emirate, after a decision by the Taliban to bar women from attending universities in the country.

Khalaf Al Habtoor, founder and chairman of Al Habtoor Group, offered to work with authorities to support Afghan students "far away from any political stance".

The Emirati philanthropist described the ban ― which institutions were told on Tuesday to implement as soon as possible ― as "unfortunate and sad".

The UAE and Saudi Arabia have led condemnation of the ruling, which has sparked an international outcry.

“Depriving female students of university education is unfortunate and sad," Mr Al Habtoor wrote on social media.

"Therefore, far away from any political stance, I am ready, in co-operation with the relevant authorities to host 100 female students and give them the opportunity to complete their studies in Dubai universities.”

It is not yet clear how eligible candidates can apply or what the selection process will be.

Al Habtoor Group is one of the largest conglomerates in Dubai with interests in hospitality, automotive, real estate, education and publishing sectors.

Mr Al Habtoor also funds charity and welfare activities through his Khalaf Ahmed Al Habtoor Foundation that was launched in 2013.

It is the latest among increasing restrictions on women's rights since the Taliban took over Afghanistan, after the US-led international withdrawal in 2021.

Last month, UN experts said that the Taliban’s treatment of women and girls in Afghanistan may amount to crimes against humanity and should be investigated and prosecuted under international law.

They said the Taliban actions against females deepened existing rights offences — already the “most draconian globally” — and may constitute gender persecution.

Female students who were barred from entering the universities had expressed shock and despair, and protests were held against the move. Videos circulated on social media showed many students breaking down and asking the international community to step in.

The UN said the decision breached the right to equal education and deepened the erasure of women from Afghan society.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that no other country in the world barred women and girls from receiving an education.

“The Taliban cannot expect to be a legitimate member of the international community until they respect the rights of all in Afghanistan,” he said. “This decision will come with consequences for the Taliban.”

The UAE called for the ban to be "swiftly reversed".

“The UAE reaffirms that this decision, as well as the earlier bans on girls from accessing secondary education, violate fundamental human rights, contravene the teachings of Islam, and must be swiftly reversed,” said the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Co-operation.

Updated: December 23, 2022, 9:46 AM