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Taliban rule forces Afghan universities to abandon classes, curtains in classrooms

Professors and students grappled with the Taliban’s restrictive new rules for the classroom on the first day of the Afghan school year. Taliban leaders have promised a softer rule than during their first term in power from 1996-2001 when women’s liberties in Afghanistan were severely curtailed and they were banned from higher education. According to the hardline Islamist group, women will now be allowed to enroll in private universities, but their clothing and movements will be severely limited.

As the Taliban stated, women can only attend class if they wear an abaya — a flowing robe — and a niqab — a face veil with a small window — and are separated from men. ‘We will have to close the university,’ said Noor Ali Rahmani, the director of Gharjistan University in Kabul, on an almost empty campus on Monday. ‘Our students wear the hijab, not the niqab,’ he said, referring to a headscarf.

Taliban officials released a lengthy document on Sunday outlining their plans for classrooms, which also ruled men and women should be separated – or at least separated by a curtain – if there are more than 15 students. Rahmani told AFP that he couldn’t accept it because it would be difficult. Besides, it’s not what the Koran demands. From now on at private colleges and universities, which have mushroomed since the Taliban’s first rule ended, women can only be taught by other women, or ‘old men’, and use a women-only entrance. To prevent them from mixing outside, they must also end their lessons five minutes earlier than men. So far, the Taliban has not mentioned public universities.

The fact that women would still be able to attend university under a new Taliban regime, however, was a relief to some students. On social media, Zuhra Bahman, who runs a scholarship program for women in Afghanistan, said she had spoken with some of the students. She said that they are happy to go back to university in hijab. ‘We must continue to engage to agree on other rights and freedoms’, Jalil Tadjlil, a spokesman for the capital’s Ibn-e Sina University, said separate entrances had already been created for men and women.

AFP quoted him as saying his office did not have the authority to accept or reject decisions made by the university and blamed a lack of students on the ‘ongoing uncertainty’. A picture of male and female students separated by a curtain was posted online by the university. Images posted on Facebook by its department of economics and management showed six women wearing the hijab and ten male students with a grey curtain between them while a male teacher wrote on a whiteboard.

On the first day of the semester, campus corridors are usually packed with students catching up after the summer. Kabul’s universities reported a particularly low turnout on Monday, leaving educators wondering just how many young, talented people have left the country as part of the ‘brain drain’. Rashmani said only 10 to 20 percent of the 1,000 students who enrolled last year were at Gharjistan University on Monday, even though classes were not scheduled. He believed up to 30 percent of the students left Afghanistan after the Taliban seized control in the middle of August. ‘We need to see if students come,’ he said.

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Women students are particularly at risk when traveling to campus, said Reza Ramazan, a computer science teacher at the university. He said checkpoints could be dangerous. After the Taliban took over, ‘everything changed completely’ for 28-year-old computer science student Amir Hussein. The lack of knowing what their future holds is the primary reason students aren’t interested in studying anymore. The majority of them want to leave Afghanistan.


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