March 25, 2023

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Universities in Afghanistan are reopening with curtains to separate students and pupils

College students across Afghanistan began to return to the classroom after the Taliban came to power, sometimes separating female students from their male counterparts by curtains or boards in the middle of the room.

Foreign powers will closely monitor what is happening in universities and schools across the country and look for signs of what women’s rights will look like once the militant Islamic movement returns to power.

Some Western countries provide major financial assistance and Taliban recognition depends on how it manages Afghanistan, including the treatment of women and girls.

When it first ruled the country, between 1996 and 2001, the group banned women and girls from universities and jobs.

Although it has been promised in recent weeks that women’s rights will be respected under Islamic law, it is not clear what this means in practice.

Professors and students at universities in Afghanistan’s largest cities, Kabul, Kandahar and Herat, told Reuters: Students are segregated in classrooms and taught separately or confined to certain areas of campus.

“Cutting the curtains is unacceptable,” said Anjila, a 21-year-old student at the University of Kabul.

“It was a pity for me when I entered the room … we were gradually going 20 years ago.”

Anjila said before the Taliban took over the country, students were seated separately from students, but the classrooms were not physically separated.

Last week, the Taliban said teaching would resume but men and women should be separated.

A Taliban spokesman did not comment on the photo of the detached room or what action should be taken at the universities.

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However, a senior Taliban official told Reuters that such divisions were “completely acceptable” and that “Afghanistan has limited resources and manpower, so for now it is better to have a single teacher teaching on both sides of a room.”

Photos shared by Avicenna University in Kabul, which have been widely circulated on social media, show a gray curtain separating the center of the room and students wearing long robes and headscarves, but their faces are visible.

It was not immediately clear whether the room sharing was the result of a Taliban order.