The Taliban announced Sunday they would start reopening all public universities in Afghanistan from this week, more than five months after the Islamist group retook control of the war-torn country.
Abdul Baqi Haqqani, the minister for higher education, said by video that students in Afghan provinces with a warm climate would return to classes on Wednesday, while universities in the colder areas, including Kabul, will reopen February 26.
Haqqani did not elaborate, but in his earlier statements the minister had announced that gender segregation would be enforced in public universities in line with Sharia or Islamic law before reopening them. He also said at the time that hijabs would be mandatory for female students.
Sunday’s announcement comes as the Taliban face pressure from the international community to respect the human rights of all Afghans, especially those of women, and allow all girls to receive an education.
United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres renewed his call for the Taliban earlier on Sunday to uphold pledges to respect human rights.
“In Afghanistan, women & girls are once again being denied their rights to education, employment & equal justice,” Guterres tweeted on Sunday. “To demonstrate a real commitment to be a part of the global community, the Taliban must recognize & uphold the basic human rights that belong to every girl & woman.”
In mid-September, the Taliban allowed female students to resume classes in some 150 private universities under a strictly gender-segregated classroom system.
Afghan public and private universities were co-educational before the Taliban takeover, with males and females studying side by side, and women didn’t have to abide by a dress code. In elementary and high schools, however, girls and boys were taught separately until the Islamist group regained power last August.
“Co-education is in conflict with the principles of Islam and with national values and it is against the traditions of Afghans as well,” Haqqani said in a September news conference in Kabul.
While the Taliban’s male-only caretaker government opened secondary schools for boys in early September, most girls across Afghanistan are still waiting for official permission to continue their education.
The Taliban have pledged that all girls will be allowed to go back to the classroom in March when the new school year begins in the country.
Leaders of the ruling Islamist group have repeatedly rejected as false propaganda that they oppose education for women, saying financial constraints and a lack of an “Islamic environment” in educational institutions were preventing them from letting women resume their studies.
No country has yet recognized the Taliban as the legitimate rulers of Afghanistan.
The global community has been watching closely to see whether the Islamist group might rule the country differently from its first time in power in the late 1990s, when girls were banned from attending schools and women from leaving home unless accompanied by a close male relative.