Public universities in Afghanistan’s colder areas, including Kabul, reopened Saturday to both male and female students six months after the Islamist Taliban returned to power.
The reopening marked the resumption of education in all of about 40 state-run universities in Afghanistan after Taliban authorities allowed university students earlier this month to return to their classes in provinces with a warm climate.
The opening day at the country’s oldest and biggest university in the Afghan capital as well as campuses elsewhere was marred by low attendance and a lack of teaching staff.
University administrations enforced gender segregation, including staggered operating hours and separate classes for men and women in accordance with the Taliban’s strict interpretation of Islam. Women must also wear hijabs.
The Taliban banned co-education after taking control of Afghanistan on Aug. 15.
Students’ reaction was mixed after their first day back on Saturday.
“I am very happy today as the Islamic Emirate reopened our universities," Razia Kamal, a female student, was quoted by the Afghan TOLO news channel as saying. The Islamic Emirate is the official name of the Taliban government.
In Kabul, student Haseenat said campus life for women was now very different than it was before. "There is no cafeteria anymore ... we are not allowed to go to the university's courtyard."
“I am happy that the university resumed … we want to continue our studies," said an English major who asked to be identified only as Basira. There was also a shortage of lecturers, she said, adding: "Maybe because some have left the country.”
Tens of thousands of mostly educated Afghans have left the country fearing Taliban reprisals since the United States and other Western nations withdrew their troops in late August after a 20-year occupation.
In the western Afghan city of Herat, students also complained about a lack of tutors.
"Some of our professors have also left the country, but we are happy that the university gates are open," said Parisa Narwan, an arts major.
The Taliban allowed males and females to resume education in some 150 private universities in the country in September under a gender-segregated classroom system. But they took time to reopen public universities, citing financial constraints and a lack of separate classrooms for men and women in accordance with Islamic Sharia law.
“It’s a positive move albeit late,” said Mohsin Amin, an Afghan policy analyst and researcher. “It’s of utmost importance to enhance the quality of education in all universities across Afghanistan for girls and address the scarcity of female teachers as well as professors.
“High schools for girls in all provinces should resume as soon as possible,” Amin told VOA.
While the Taliban allowed boys to rejoin secondary schools in early September, most Afghan girls are still waiting for permission to resume class.
Taliban officials have pledged to allow all girls to be back in school in late March, dismissing fears they intend to ban female education, as happened during the hardline group’s previous rule from 1996-2001.
The international community has not yet recognized the male-only Taliban government. Foreign governments want the Islamist group to ensure respect for women’s rights to education and work, establish a broad-based government, and prevent terrorist groups from using Afghan soil for attacks against other countries.
Meanwhile, economic upheavals resulting from the Taliban’s military takeover of Afghanistan have worsened humanitarian conditions, which stem from years of war and drought-like conditions.
The United Nations estimates more than half of the population is facing emergency levels of food insecurity, saying 23 million Afghans face acute hunger, close to 9 million of them a step away from famine.
“Without urgent life-saving humanitarian aid, over 4 million children under-five will be acutely malnourished this year, over 1 million of them severely so,” the U.N. warned in a new statement issued Saturday. “More than 130,000 children could perish this year without immediate action.”
Some information for this story came from Agence France-Presse.