Afghan women return to class as universities reopen under Taliban rules

The hardline group insists it will allow education for girls as well but has yet to reopen their schools

Women attend a class in Badakshan University as Afghanistan's universities reopen for the first time since the Taliban seized power. AFP

Universities across Afghanistan reopened on Saturday for the first time since the Taliban seized power six months ago, but with new rules for women.

Taliban stood guard at the campus's three entrances at Kabul University as female students waited to enter. All wore the hijab, one of the conditions laid down by the Taliban along with segregated classes.

"After much delay, fortunately, all universities and educational institutions started today, February 26,” Ahmad Taqqi, Taliban spokesman for the Higher Education Ministry, said.

“The education will continue based on the plans and policies of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.”

Students walk to Kabul University on February  26, 2022 as classes resumed after a gap of six months. AP Photo

Public universities in the provinces of Lagham, Nangarhar, Kandahar, Nimroz, Farah and Helmand reopened earlier this month.

Most secondary schools for girls and all public universities were shut following the Taliban's August 15 takeover, sparking fears women would be barred from education – as happened when the group ruled Afghanistan from 1996-2001.

University students said they had not known what to expect on Saturday but were surprised to discover they could resume regular coursework and advance in their chosen fields of study.

The music department was the only discipline cancelled for both men and women, they told Associated Press.

"There have been no changes made to the syllabus. The instructors are the same in my classes,” said Bahija Aman, 21, a third-year anthropology student.

Journalists were not allowed to enter the campus.

"I am happy that the university resumed … we want to continue our studies," said a student of English who asked to be identified as Basira.

Quote
I am happy that the university resumed...we want to continue our studies
Basira, Kabul university student

But there were "some difficulties" – including students being scolded by Taliban guards for bringing their mobile phones to class, she told AFP.

"They did not behave well with us … they were rude," she said.

Another English student, Maryam, said only seven women attended her class.

"Before we were 56 students, boys and girls," she said.

There was also a shortage of lecturers, she said, adding: "Maybe because some have left the country."

A similar picture emerged from other universities that reopened on Saturday, although no students returned to class at Panjshir University, in the heartland of a nascent resistance to the Taliban's rule.

"I do not know if they will come tomorrow, or the day after tomorrow, or not," said Professor Noor-ur-Rehman Afzali.

Panjshir was the last province to fall to the Taliban, and Jaber Jibran, a faculty head, said several classrooms destroyed in that fighting had not been repaired.

In Herat, the ancient Silk Road city near the Iranian border and once one of the Islamic world's most important intellectual centres, students also complained about a lack of tutors.

"Some of our professors have also left the country, but we are happy that the university gates are open," said Parisa Narwan, who is studying arts.

Tens of thousands of Afghans fled the country as the Taliban stormed back to power, including teachers and lecturers who had been vociferously critical of the Taliban.

No country has yet recognised the Taliban regime, which has imposed several restrictions on women including banning them from many government jobs.

In Kabul, student Haseenat said campus life for women was very different to before.

"We are told not to go out of our classes," she said.

"There is no cafeteria anymore … we are not allowed to go to the university's courtyard."

Updated: February 26, 2022, 5:26 PM
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