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Amid curtains, strict rules Afghan varsities reopen for female students

By Saima Siddiqui 
Updated Date

New Delhi: As the hardline Islamist group has promised a different image this time with more moderate government, including assurances of human rights – particularly those concerning women and children, Taliban seems to have stick to its words as universities resumed functioning in war-torn Afghanistan on Monday allowing female students to attend classes but with a “curtain of separation” and strict rules.

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A photo trending on Twitter shows male and female students sitting in a class room with curtains between them.

Taliban has still, however, imposed restrictions on the clothes they may wear, where and how they are seated in class, who can teach them, and even the length of their classes.

Photographs by the Aamaj News Agency (which NDTV has not been able to independently verify) reveal the ‘new normal’ for Afghan college students – divided classrooms, literally and figuratively.

A document issued by the Taliban’s education authority Saturday, prior to classes resuming today, ordered women to wear an abaya robe and niqab (that covers most of the face) and that classes must be segregated by sex – or at least divided by a curtain.

There was no order for women to wear the all-enveloping burqa but the niqab effectively covers most of the face anyway, leaving just the eyes exposed.

The document also ordered that female students should only be taught by other women. If this is not possible then “old men of good character” can fill in. “Universities are required to recruit female teachers for female students based on their facilities,” the education authority said

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Among other decrees from the Taliban are that men and women must use separate entrances and exits, and female students must leave five minutes earlier to stop men and women from mixing.

Female students must stay in waiting rooms till their male counterparts have left the building.

A university professor, on the condition of anonymity, told media “it is a difficult plan – we don’t have enough female instructors or classes to segregate the girls… But the fact that they are allowing girls to go to schools and universities is a big positive step.”

Girls and boys will also be segregated at primary and secondary schools, which was already common throughout deeply conservative Afghanistan.

Last month Abdul Baqi Haqqani, the acting minister for higher education, was quoted by AFP as saying the Taliban wants to “create a reasonable and Islamic curriculum… in line with our Islamic, national and historical values and… be able to compete with other countries”.

Whether women can work, freely attend school and college and be able to mix with men have been some of the most pressing questions since the Taliban swept into Kabul on August 15.

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August’s meeting of education officials offered a potential answer – no women were present at a meeting of elders in Kabul, although several senior Taliban officials were.

A lecturer who previously worked at a city university told media this showed “systematic prevention of women’s participation” and “a gap between the Taliban’s commitments and actions”.

University admission rates have risen over the past 20 years, particularly among women who have studied side-by-side with men and attended seminars delivered by male professors.

The Taliban – feared for their brutal first regime – has promised to be more inclusive, particularly in regards to 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 revert to type.

Promises women can also work have been viewed with scepticism too, given reports like Shabnam Dawran, a popular Afghan journalist who said she was barred from working at her TV station.

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