On August 29, 2021, the Taliban’s Higher Education Minister, Abdul Baqi Haqqani, announced that classes at government and private universities would be divided by gender.
The Taliban took over as de facto state authorities in Afghanistan on August 15, as US and other coalition members withdrew their military forces. During the Taliban’s previous rule of the country, from 1996 to 2001, 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.
On August 28, Haqqani was named as the country’s higher education minister, establishing the Taliban’s authority over Afghanistan’s higher education system. The following day, Haqqani announced that, in order to maintain a “safe learning environment” in line with Islamic values, all university classes would be divided according to gender. The order includes prohibiting males from instructing female students.
While the order does not officially prohibit women from accessing higher education, experts on the region and representatives from Afghanistan’s private universities have told reporters that, with few female instructors in higher education and males unable to instruct female students, a large number of women will be left out of higher education opportunities.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about the large-scale deprivation of access to higher education on the basis of gender. Authorities have a responsibility to respect and promote access to education regardless of gender, and to respect institutional autonomy in higher education. Mandates that disrupt or effectively deprive large segments of a population of access to higher education undermine academic freedom, institutional autonomy, and democratic society generally.
UPDATE: On September 4, 2021, the Taliban issued a decree requiring women who attend private universities to wear a niqab and an abaya robe and ordering gender segregation on campuses. The decree orders universities to have female professors teach female students and in cases in which that is not possible, to set up a curtain to divide female students from male students. Female students are also not permitted to mingle with male students on university campuses and are required to use different entrances.