The Taliban apparently want to exclude young women from higher education. The new regime of radical Islamic "Koranic students" called only Afghanistan's male teachers and students to secondary schools for the nationwide start of school on Saturday. This affects young people from about twelve years old. There was no mention of female students of that age, according to the BBC. A Taliban spokesman says they will decide this issue later.
In doing so, the Taliban appear to be breaking one of their most important promises: To respect women's rights within the precepts of Islam. After taking power on Aug. 15, for example, they had assured that higher education and universities would be open to women. The prerequisite was that teaching and learning would take place with full gender segregation. The fact that the Islamists have now closed the former Ministry of Women's Affairs and converted it into a Ministry of Virtue and Preaching is an indication that the Taliban are returning to their earlier, anti-women policy.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahideen tells a local news agency they are working to reopen secondary schools to young women as well. However, he did not give details or a date. It is possible that the Taliban leadership is not united on this issue; it is also divided on other issues between a more pragmatic wing and a radical traditionalist faction. As on numerous other political issues, however, the Taliban may simply want to delay the issue and create facts. Ideologically, they reject almost any participation of women in public life.
An Office of Morals instead of the Ministry of Women's Affairs
There is not a single woman in the new Taliban cabinet. On Friday, the Taliban had closed the Ministry of Women's Affairs. Instead, there is now once again an office that watches over the observance of "Islamic mores" and is dedicated to the fight against supposed vices. A great many women were sent home immediately after the takeover, when they appeared at their workplaces as usual. Thus the Taliban, who had already ruled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001, seem to defy all appeals from the international community.
Recently, the Islamists had announced that women would be allowed to continue attending universities as long as gender segregation in the lecture hall was guaranteed. In addition, it must be ensured that the subject matter corresponds to "Islamic values. The selection of lecturers would also have to be made separately according to gender. If this is not possible, the lecturers should teach behind a screen or via audio. In addition, a strict dress code would be imposed at the universities. The Taliban usually demand full-body veiling with burqas or similar veils, which at most leave women's faces and hands free. According to the Taliban's understanding of Islam, this would probably mean that large parts of modern academic teaching would fall by the wayside.
Women's education has always been controversial in the conservative Islamic Afghan society. After the fall of the Taliban regime, the Western-backed government that took over in 2002 changed course drastically. Its greatest achievements were in the areas of women's rights and women's education. The number of Afghan girls going to elementary school rose almost out of nowhere to about 2.5 million, the illiteracy rate among women dropped significantly, and there were female ministers and television journalists.