Outrage as Taliban pledge an end to mixed-sex teaching

The Taliban have paraded women in black robes with hoods that cover their faces and appear to block their vision, a radical dress code that has prompted renewed warnings about their plans for female education.

everal dozen women wearing black robes, some with hoods over their faces and gloves covering their hands, were gathered in a lecture theatre to hear female speakers decry the West and back Taliban education policies at Kabul University at the weekend.

The outfits worn at the meeting drew comment because of the use of a hood covering the eyes, a garment unheard of in Afghanistan and rarely seen even in the most extreme religious settings elsewhere.

During the Taliban’s first regime between 1996 and 2001, women were forced to wear a blue burqa with a mesh panel for eyesight.

Women under the Islamic State’s so-called caliphate in Iraq and Syria between 2014 and 2019 wore a black niqab and gloves, but left an eye slit to see through.

Abdul Baqi Haqqani, the Taliban’s higher education minister, said yesterday that he intended to keep universities open to women as long as they wore “hijab”, but did not specify whether that meant a headscarf or face covering.

He also confirmed the Taliban would enforce a ban on mixed-sex teaching.

“We have no problems in ending the mixed-education system. The people are Muslims and they will accept it,” he said.

The Taliban have promised to preserve female education and women’s rights within “the framework of Islamic law” since coming to power last month.

Activists and academics have warned that an end to co-ed classes in secondary and university-level education will amount to a ban on teaching women and girls because institutions lack the extra classrooms and female staff required to meet the new rules.

Mr Haqqani denied that accusation, saying that sufficient female staff could be found and that alternative arrangements could be made in the meantime.

“It all depends on the university’s capacity,” he said.

“We can also use male teachers to teach from behind a curtain, or use technology.”

One female activist, who asked to remain anonymous because she was still in Kabul, said the promises were a “lie” and that students had been forced to stay at home because universities did not know how to implement the new rules.

Columns of similarly dressed women chanting pro-Taliban slogans marched in Kabul and Kandahar over the weekend, in an apparent attempt by the Taliban to counter a series of female-led opposition protests.

Natiq Malikzada, a local journalist, said one of the women involved had told him that the Taliban summoned students to the hall and “pressured” them to wear black robes.

“They told us that if you do not attend, you will be expelled from university and you will never go to university anywhere,” Mr Malikzada claimed the woman had said.

Photographs of the meeting drew a backlash on social media, with Afghan women posting pictures of themselves in traditional Afghan dress under the hashtag “DoNotTouchMyClothes”.

“This is Afghan culture. I am wearing a traditional Afghan dress,” Bahar Jalai, an academic, posted, with a picture of her in a green dress.

Others said they had not seen outfits where a hood was used to cover the eyes even in the most conservative and religious areas of Afghanistan. (© Telegraph Media Group Ltd 2021)

Telegraph Media Group Limited [2021]

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