Afghan women can study in gender-segregated classrooms, says Taliban

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Veiled students hold Taliban flags as they listen a speaker before a pro-Taliban rally at the Shaheed Rabbani Education University in Kabul on September 11 (AFP via Getty Images)
Veiled students hold Taliban flags as they listen a speaker before a pro-Taliban rally at the Shaheed Rabbani Education University in Kabul on September 11 (AFP via Getty Images)

Women in Afghanistan will be forced to study in gender-segregated classrooms and wear strictly conservative Islamic dress, the Taliban has confirmed.

The higher education minister, Abdul Baqi Haqqani, laid out the new policies at a news conference, several days after Afghanistan’s new rulers formed an all-male government.

However, women have been banned from sports and the Taliban have used violence in recent days against women protesters demanding equal rights.

Haqqani said the Taliban did not want to turn the clock back 20 years.

“We will start building on what exists today,” he said.

But female university students will face restrictions, including a compulsory dress code.

Haqqani said hijabs will be mandatory but did not specify if this meant compulsory headscarves or also compulsory face coverings.

Gender segregation will also be enforced, he said.

“We will not allow boys and girls to study together,” he said. “We will not allow co-education.”

Haqqani said the subjects being taught would also be reviewed.

While he did not elaborate, he said he wanted graduates of Afghanistan’s universities to be competitive with university graduates in the region and the rest of the world.

The Taliban, who subscribe to a strict interpretation of Islam, banned music and art during their previous time in power.

This time around television has remained and news channels still show women presenters, but the Taliban messaging has been erratic.

In an interview on Afghanistan’s popular TOLO News, Taliban spokesman Syed Zekrullah Hashmi said last week that women should give birth and raise children.

While the Taliban have not ruled out the eventual participation of women in government, the spokesman said “it’s not necessary that women be in the cabinet.”

The new higher education policy signals a change from the accepted practice before the Taliban takeover.

Universities were co-ed, with men and women studying side by side, and female students did not have to abide by a dress code.

However, the vast majority of female university students opted to wear headscarves in line with tradition.

In elementary and high schools, boys and girls were taught separately, even before the Taliban came to power.

In high schools, girls had to wear tunics reaching to their knees and white headscarves, and jeans, makeup and jewelry were not permitted.

Additional reporting by the Associated Press.

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