Afghan Taliban to reopen public universities, no word on female students

Afghanistan’s public universities, closed since the Taliban seized power in August, will reopen in February, the Taliban acting higher education minister said on Sunday, without specifying whether female students would be able to return.

Universities in warmer provinces will reopen from Feb 2, while those in colder areas would reopen on Feb 26, the minister, Shaikh Abdul Baqi Haqqani, told a news conference in Kabul.

He did not say what arrangements if any would be made for female students. In the past, Taliban officials have suggested that women could be taught in separate classes.

So far, the Taliban government has reopened high schools for boys only in most parts of the country. Some private universities have reopened, but in many cases, female students have not been able to return to class.

On January 15, Zabihullah Mujahid, who is also the Taliban’s deputy minister of culture and information, had said their education departments were looking to open classrooms for all girls and women following the Afghan New Year, which starts on March 21.

“We are not against education,” Mujahid had stressed, speaking at a Kabul office building in an interview with The Associated Press.

However, a day later Taliban forces had fired pepper spray at a group of women protesters in Afghanistan’s capital demanding rights to work and education. Around 20 women had gathered in front of Kabul University, chanting “equality and justice” and carrying banners that read “Women’s rights, human rights”, an AFP correspondent had reported.

Western governments have made education for female students a part of their demands as the Taliban seek more foreign aid and the unfreezing of overseas assets.

The hardline group took over the country on August 15 as foreign forces withdrew.