Women in Afghanistan can continue to study in universities, including at post-graduate levels, but classrooms are to be gender-segregated and Islamic dress is compulsory, the Taliban government’s new higher education minister said on Sunday.
Afghan Minister of Higher Education Abdul Baqi Haqqani laid out the new policies at a news conference, several days after Afghanistan’s new rulers formed an all-male government. On Saturday, the Taliban had raised its flag over the presidential palace, signaling the start of the work of the new government.
The world has been watching closely to see to what extent the Taliban might act differently from its first time in power in the late 1990s. During that era, girls and women were denied an education and were excluded from public life.
The Taliban has suggested it has changed, including in its attitudes toward women. However, women have been banned from sports and the Taliban has used violence against female protesters demanding equal rights.
Haqqani said the Taliban did not want to turn the clock back 20 years.
“We will start building on what exists today,” he said.
However, female university students are to face restrictions, including a compulsory dress code.
Haqqani said the hijab would be mandatory, but he did not specify if this meant compulsory headscarves or also compulsory face coverings.
Gender segregation would also be enforced, he said.
“We will not allow boys and girls to study together,” Haqqani said. “We will not allow coeducation.”
Haqqani said the subjects being taught would also be reviewed. While he did not elaborate, he said he wanted graduates of Afghanistan’s universities to be competitive with other university graduates in the region and the rest of the world.
The Taliban banned music and art during its previous period in power. This time television has remained and news channels have female presenters, but the Taliban messaging has been erratic.
In an interview on Afghanistan’s TOLO News, Taliban spokesman Syed Zekrullah Hashmi last week said that women should give birth and raise children.
While the Taliban has not ruled out the eventual participation of women in government, the spokesman said “it’s not necessary that women be in the Cabinet.”
The new higher education policy signals a change from the accepted practice before the Taliban takeover. Universities were coeducation, with men and women studying side by side, and female students did not have to abide by a dress code. However, the vast majority of female university students opted to wear headscarves in line with tradition.
In elementary and high schools, boys and girls were taught separately, even before the Taliban came to power. In high schools, girls had to wear tunics reaching to their knees and white headscarves, while jeans, makeup and jewelry were not permitted.
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