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A curtain divides male, female students as Afghan universities reopen

September 6, 2021 at 9:37 pm

A student sits inside a classroom after private universities reopened in Kabul on September 6, 2021. – Women attending private Afghan universities must wear an abaya robe and niqab covering most of the face, the Taliban have ordered, and classes must be segregated by sex — or at least divided by a curtain [AAMIR QURESHI/AFP via Getty Images]

Students across Afghanistan have started returning to university for the first time since the Taliban stormed to power, and in some cases females have been separated from their male peers by curtains or boards down the middle of the classroom, Reuters reported.

What happens in universities and schools across the country is being closely watched by foreign powers, who want the Islamist militant movement to respect the rights of women in return for vital aid and diplomatic engagement.

When it last ruled from 1996-2001, the group banned girls from school and women from university and work.

Despite assurances in recent weeks that women’s rights would be honoured in accordance with Islamic law, it is unclear what that will mean in practice.

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Teachers and students at universities in Afghanistan’s largest cities – Kabul, Kandahar and Herat – told Reuters that female students were being segregated in class, taught separately or restricted to certain parts of the campus.

“Putting up curtains is not acceptable,” Anjila, a 21-year-old student at Kabul University who returned to find her classroom partitioned, told Reuters by telephone.

“I really felt terrible when I entered the class … We are gradually going back to 20 years ago.”

Even before the Taliban took over Afghanistan, Anjila said female students sat separately from males. But classrooms were not physically divided.

A document outlining guidelines for resuming class circulated by an association of private universities in Afghanistan listed measures such as the mandatory wearing of hijabs and separate entrances for female students.

It also said female teachers should be hired to teach female students, and that females should be taught separately or, in smaller classes, segregated by a curtain.

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It was unclear if the document, seen by Reuters, represented official Taliban policy. The group’s spokesperson did not immediately comment on the document, on photographs of divided classrooms or on how universities would be run.

The Taliban said last week that schooling should resume but that males and females should be separated.

A senior Taliban official told Reuters that classroom dividers such as curtains were “completely acceptable”, and that given Afghanistan’s “limited resources and manpower” it was best to “have the same teacher teaching both sides of a class.”