College students across Afghanistan have begun returning to classrooms after the Taliban seized power, and in some cases female students are separated from their male counterparts by curtains or panels in the middle of the room.
Foreign powers will be watching closely what happens in universities and schools across the country for indications of what women’s rights will be like now that the hardline Islamist movement is back in power.
Some Western countries say vital financial aid and Taliban recognition will depend on how they manage Afghanistan, including their treatment of girls and women.
When the group first ruled the country, between 1996 and 2001, the group banned girls and women from universities and jobs.
Despite assurances in recent weeks that women’s rights under Islamic law will be respected, it is unclear what this will mean in practice.
Professors and students at universities in Kabul, Kandahar and Herat, Afghanistan’s largest city, told Reuters that students are segregated into classes, taught separately or restricted to certain parts of the campus.
“Cutting the curtains is not acceptable,” Angela, 21, a student at Kabul University who found the room divided upon her return, said in a phone interview with Reuters.
“I was horrified when I walked into the room… We’ll gradually go back to 20 years ago.”
Even before the Taliban took control of the country, Angela said female students were seated separate from male students, but classes were not physically divided.
Last week, the Taliban said teaching would resume but that men and women should be separated.
A Taliban spokesman would not comment on the picture of the separate room or on the procedures to be taken at the universities.
But a high-ranking Taliban official told Reuters that such divisions were “completely acceptable” and that Afghanistan had “limited resources and manpower, so it’s best right now to have the same teacher teaching both sides of the room.”
Pictures published by Ibn Sina University in Kabul, which were widely circulated on social media, show a gray curtain dividing the center of the room and students wearing long robes and head coverings, but their faces are visible.
It was not immediately clear whether the room sections were the result of a Taliban directive.
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