College students across Afghanistan began to return to classrooms after the Taliban seized power, sometimes separating female students from their male rivals with curtains or boards in the middle of the room.
What is happening in universities and schools across the country will be closely monitored by foreign powers seeking clues as to what women’s rights will be when the extremist Islamic movement returns to power.
Some Western countries say vital financial aid and Taliban recognition will depend on how Afghanistan is handled, including the treatment of girls and women.
When the country first ruled, between 1996 and 2001, the group banned girls and women 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 in Afghanistan’s largest cities, Kabul, Kandahar and Herat, told Reuters that students were segregated in classrooms, taught exclusively or confined to certain parts of campuses.
“Cutting curtains is not acceptable,” Angela, a 21-year-old student at Kabul University, told Reuters in a telephone interview.
“I was terribly upset when I walked into the room … we’re gradually going back 20 years.”
Angela said that even before the Taliban took over the country, female students were segregated from students but classrooms were not physically divided.
Last week, the Taliban said they would resume teaching but would segregate men and women.
A Taliban spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
But a senior Taliban official told Reuters that such divisions were perfectly acceptable and that “Afghanistan has limited resources and manpower so it would be better to teach both sides of the same room now.”
The photos, which were widely shared on social media by the University of Avicenna in Kabul, split the gray curtain in the center of the room as students wore long dresses and headscarves but their faces were visible.
It is not clear whether the room partitions are the result of a Taliban proposal.
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