On August 21, 2021, the Taliban issued an order banning the co-education of males and females in Herat province’s government and private universities.
The Taliban took over as de facto state authorities in Afghanistan on August 15, as US and other coalition forces approached the end of their withdrawal of military forces. The Taliban, an Islamist militant group, previously ruled the country from 1996 to 2001, a period during which women and girls were prohibited from most formal education and were subjected to other forms of gender-based discrimination. Since the Taliban’s ouster in 2001, significant gains were made with respect for women’s rights, including access to education.
Afghanistan’s Khamma Press News Agency reported that Taliban officials in Herat ordered a ban on the co-education of male and female students at universities in the province. Prior to the order, Afghanistan had a mixed system of both co-educational institutions and single-sex institutions.
A Taliban higher education official reportedly said that co-education was the “root of all evil.” The anti-co-education directive also segregates instructors, prohibiting male faculty from teaching female students and female faculty from teaching male students. A Herat University lecturer told University World News that the Taliban had ordered his campus closed, ostensibly until the gender segregation ban was instituted on that campus.
While the order does not officially prohibit women from accessing higher education, faculty in Herat told reporters that private institutions would be unable to afford separate classes for male and female students, likely resulting in limited access to higher education for the latter.
Scholars at Risk is concerned by orders to segregate male and female members of higher education communities. Both de jure and de facto governing authorities have a responsibility to respect and promote access to education regardless of gender, and to respect institutional autonomy in higher education. Orders to segregate higher education communities undermine academic freedom, institutional autonomy, and democratic society generally.