The Taliban government in Afghanistan said Sunday women can continue to pursue university and post-graduate studies in public and private institutions as long as classrooms or building structures are gender-segregated.
The Taliban’s acting education minister, Abdul Baqi Haqqani, while laying out the new policy at a news conference in Kabul, defended the segregation of students by gender, contending that coeducation is against Islamic tenants and Afghan cultural traditions.
The minister said that only women teachers will be allowed to teach female students and there will be no shortage of women teachers. But, if it is really required, men will also be permitted to teach women without violating Islamic law.
“They [male teachers] can also teach but in accordance with Sharia. They should teach from behind a curtain or use [video] screens and other such facilities,” Haqqani said.
He stressed his government intends to preserve the gains Afghanistan has made in the education sector over the past 20 years but there will be no coeducation in the country.
“It’s not that we will start afresh. No. We will build on the milestones achieved until now but with greater attention,” Haqqani said.
Under the Taliban’s 1996-2001 government in Afghanistan, human rights, particularly women’s rights, were sharply curtailed, leading to the country’s international isolation at the time.
The fundamentalist group had introduced a brutal justice system. Women were barred from leaving home without a male relative and girls were not permitted to receive an education at the time.
Since returning to power nearly a month ago, the Taliban have promised to defend human rights and allow women to study or work so they can remain part of the global community and continue to receive financial assistance to deal with multiple crises facing the country.
The Taliban established a caretaker all-male government last week, days after the United States and Western allies withdrew their troops from Afghanistan, ending nearly two decades of involvement in the war with the Islamist movement.
The U.S. and the international community at large are closely watching to see if the Taliban have actually reformed and softened their hardline policies of the past before considering establishing diplomatic contacts with their new government in Kabul.
Last week, a group of mostly female students in black robes that covered them from head to foot gathered inside Kabul’s university and later rallied on the streets in support of the Taliban’s rules on dress and separate classrooms for men and women.
While public universities remain closed in Afghanistan mainly due to the coronavirus outbreak, private universities opened a week ago. Classroom were divided by curtains.
Haqqani acknowledged higher education institutions in Afghanistan face a lack of financial resources and capacity issues, and he suggested ways to overcome them. “Universities having adequate resources should have separate classrooms for boys and girls. And those who cannot afford it should have specified times for boys and specified times for girls, or there must be a partition in class.”
Haqqani said that gender segregation would be enforced across the county and all subjects being taught currently would also be reviewed in the coming months. He did not elaborate.