On Saturday, the Taliban hoisted its flag at the presidential palace, signaling that work on governing the newly established Islamic Emirate has begun.
The last time the Taliban seized power in Afghanistan, between 1996 and 2001, women’s rights were severely curtailed. The Taliban has promised a less extreme line this time.
The international community has been following closely how the new regime treats Afghan women to see how much the Taliban’s moderations from the past are a reality.
The Taliban’s Minister of Higher Education, Abdul Baqi Haqqani, has now set out a series of rules for women pursuing higher education in the country.
Do not study together
At a press conference, Haqqani said that women should be allowed to continue their education, but that it will be mandatory to wear the hijab. It is unclear “hijab” in this context means to cover the face, as the Taliban demanded in a decree issued a week ago.
Gender segregation will be enforced at all universities, which means that men and women must be taught in separate classrooms.
– We will not allow boys and girls to study together, Haqqani said.
Women should in principle only be taught by women, but it depends on the university’s capacity.
– We can also use male teachers who teach behind a curtain, or use technology, he explained.
Several are scared
The new education policy contrasts with how the universities functioned before Kabul fell to the Taliban on 15 August this year.
Before that time, women and men studied each other, women did not have to follow any dress code and the number of female students had reached record heights. Universities such as Herat University and Ghalib University in Kabul were praised for having more female students than male, writes The Guardian.
Since the Taliban took power, however, many female students have stayed home due to insecurity and fear. Last week, women who took to the streets to demand equal rights were met with violence and gunfire, according to the newspaper.
– We are receiving more and more reports that the Taliban have banned women from showing up in public places without male companions and that women are prevented from working. They have restricted girls’ access to education in some regions, the UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Afghanistan, Deborah Lyons, told the Security Council last week.
– Different layers of discrimination
Many also wonder how feasible the new guidelines for women’s education are. Lack of facilities and female teachers are already creating trouble for universities. Some institutions tell students that they have no choice but to stop running certain courses for women.
– For many universities, and for many women and girls, it will not be feasible, on an economic and logistical level, to get these things in place. So the consequence will not only be gender segregation, it will be the exclusion of women and girls. “Unfortunately, I think it’s probably okay for the Taliban,” said Heather Barr.
She is co-director of the department for women’s rights in the human rights organization Human Rights Watch and says that the restriction that women now receive is very problematic.
– There are different layers of discrimination in this, which means that it will have a really devastating effect on women and girls, she says.
On Saturday, about 300 women gathered at a university in Kabul to show support for the Taliban.
The Taliban itself said that the demonstration was organized by female university lecturers and students, and that they had asked for and received permission to hold the event, writes The New York Times.
Many of the women held Taliban flags and women who oppose the Taliban regime were criticized by speakers during the demonstration.
“Unlike other demonstrations in Kabul, this is the second female protest that was non-violent, and journalists were allowed to cover the demonstration freely,” the Ministry of Education of the Taliban government said in a statement.
“The women also welcomed the arrangement of separate classes for boys and girls at all universities and institutes and promised that they would work to strengthen the Islamic Emirate in Afghanistan,” the ministry said.
According to The New York Times, local journalists were not allowed to speak to any of the women who took part in the demonstration. Later attempts to reach the participants through social media or the university were not answered, the newspaper writes.