In war-torn Afghanistan, private universities on Monday resumed work with the Taliban — which has promised a more moderate government, including guarantees for human rights, especially those related to women and children — allowing female students to attend classes.
However, the hardline Islamist group has still imposed restrictions on the clothes they are allowed to wear, where and how they sit in the classroom, who can teach them and even the length of their classes.
Photos from the Aamaj News Agency (which NewsMadura has not been able to independently verify) reveal the ‘new normal’ for Afghan students: divided classrooms, literally and figuratively.
— Aamaj News (@AamajN) September 6, 2021
A document released Saturday by the Taliban education authority ahead of the resumption of classes today ordered women to wear an abaya robe and a niqab (which covers most of the face) and that classes should be separated by gender – or at least separated by a curtain.
There was no order for women to wear the all-encompassing burqa, but the niqab effectively covers most of the face anyway, leaving only the eyes visible.
The document also stipulated that female students should only be taught by other women. If this is not possible, fill in “old men of good character”. “Universities are required to recruit female teachers for female students based on their facilities,” the education authority said.
Among other Taliban decrees, men and women must use separate entrances and exits, and female students must leave five minutes early to prevent men and women from mixing.
Female students must remain in waiting rooms until their male colleagues have left the building.
A university professor, who declined to be named, told AFP: “It’s a tough plan – we don’t have enough female instructors or classes to segregate the girls…university is a big positive step.”
Girls and boys will also be segregated in primary and secondary schools, which was already common practice in very conservative Afghanistan.
Last month, Abdul Baqi Haqqani, the acting Minister of Higher Education, was quoted by AFP as saying that the Taliban “wants to create a reasonable and Islamic curriculum… in accordance with our Islamic, national and historical values and… to compete with other countries”.
Whether women can work, freely attend school and university, and associate with men are some of the most pressing questions since the Taliban invaded Kabul on August 15.
The August meeting of education officials offered a possible answer – no women attended a gathering of elders in Kabul, although several senior Taliban officials were.
A lecturer who previously worked at a city university told AFP that this demonstrated “systematic prevention of women’s participation” and “a gap between the Taliban’s pledges and actions.”
University admissions rates have risen over the past 20 years, especially among women who have studied side by side with men and attended seminars taught by male professors.
The Taliban – feared for their brutal first regime – have pledged to be more inclusive, especially on human rights and gender equality, but reports like the one that emerged earlier today – a pregnant policewoman was shot dead – have raised fears they will return typing.
Promises that women can work too have also been met with skepticism, given reports such as Shabnam Dawran, a popular Afghan journalist who said she was banned from working at her TV station.
With input from Reuters, AFP