Taliban Says Women Can Keep Going to School — with Conditions

On Sunday, the Taliban's new higher education minister said that Afghan women could continue to study at universities but classrooms will be separated by gender and there will be an Islamic dress code

Afghan women take part in a gathering at a hall in Kabul on August 2, 2021 against the claimed human rights violations on women by the Taliban regime in Afghanistan.
Afghan women take part in a gathering at a hall in Kabul on Aug. 2 against the claimed human rights violations on women by the Taliban regime in Afghanistan. Photo: Sajjad Hussain/AFP via Getty

While life in Afghanistan under the Taliban from 1996 to 2001 saw women and girls banned from seeking an education, the militant group, returned to power following the withdrawal of U.S. troops, says it will now allow women to study — with some caveats.

On Sunday, the Taliban's new higher education minister said that Afghan women could continue to study at universities, but classrooms will be gender-segregated and Islamic dress will be mandatory.

The decades since the Taliban was ousted in the U.S. invasion in 2001 brought many changes for women and girls in the country — particularly those in the cities — who had access to an education and were no longer required to wear full-length burqas.

But as the militants swept back to power last month and the government collapsed, Afghans and advocates alike wondered if women and girls would again be subject to widespread repression.

Many fled the country in the final days of the U.S. presence; others went into hiding, fearing a loss of the way of life as they most recently knew it.

In the initial weeks after the takeover, Taliban officials did not outline their new requirements.

That has begun to change. Higher education minister Abdul Baqi Haqqani said in Sunday's news conference the Taliban — which recently instituted a male-only interim government — did not want to go backwards. "We will start building on what exists today," he said, the Associated Press reports.

Still, Haqqani said that gender segregation and a dress code requiring hijabs for women would be enforced. "We will not allow boys and girls to study together," he said. "We will not allow co-education."

Afghan women protest
Afghan women protest. HOSHANG HASHIMI/AFP via Getty

The announcement comes a week after a Taliban official said in an interview that some women's sports, like cricket, would be banned in Afghanistan because the women players would be "exposed."

Prior to the most recent Taliban takeover, Afghan universities taught men and women side-by-side and while students were not subject to a dress code, many women opted to wear headscarves, in keeping with a more traditional style of dress.

Elementary and high schools were segregated by gender, however, and did require adherence to a dress code (with girls wearing tunics and headscarves).

In the weeks since the Taliban took control of Kabul on Aug. 15, some Afghan women have engaged in protests against the militant group in recent weeks, in some cases coming face-to-face with Taliban fighters.

Last Tuesday, women in hijabs joined protests after the leader of the National Resistance Front, Ahmad Massoud, called for an uprising against the Taliban, NBC News reported, following the Taliban's announcement of its interim government.

And one day later, on Wednesday, women gathered in Kabul's streets holding placards demanding "freedom" and declaring "no government can deny the presence of women." In response, CNN reported, some Taliban fighters "used whips and sticks" to lash some of the women.

If you would like to support those in need during the upheaval in Afghanistan, consider:

* Donating to UNICEF to aid Afghans in the country or

Donating to the International Refugee Assistance Project to help those fleeing.

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