By Laila Yousufy
The Taliban’s Higher Education Ministry announced a new gender segregation plan for public and private universities based on which the male students go to their classes on even days, and their female classmates on odd days.
It was the second gender segregation plan imposed on academic institutions since the Taliban reopened universities in March.
The Taliban implemented their first gender segregation plan in March, allowing female and male students to return to the universities at different times of the day, morning for girls and afternoon for boys.
Then they scrapped that plan only one month after its implementation began, and announced a new decision last week, based on which female students are allowed to enter the campus on Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday.
Female students criticized the new plan, saying spending three full days at the university disrupts their daily lives, education and work balance.
Sima, 22, an Engineering student at Polytechnic University in Kabul who also works part time, said for her the new plan means she has to quit work or give up studying because she can’t continue both anymore.
She said her father is ill and can’t work, and that she is the only breadwinner in the family.
“The plan doesn’t make sense at all,” Sima said. “I don’t know whether to work and feed my family, or study” and let them starve.
“No one hires me to work every other day,” she added.
Afghanistan’s higher education institutions adopted and implemented a co-education system for decades. But the Taliban, an Islamist militant group, outlawed co-education soon after seizing power.
Gender segregation isn’t the only restriction imposed on universities. The Taliban have also made hijab compulsory for female students, and banned millions of schoolgirls above sixth grade from returning to their class.
Some female students call on the Taliban to reconsider the new decision because it further restricts women’s education, and may force some women to quit studying.
Najiba, a 24-year-old psychology student at Kabul University, said she has to give up studying because she cannot leave her 1-year-old baby at home all day on even days of the week. When she was going to the university in the morning, she could spend the afternoon with her child and do the chores at home in the past few weeks.
Ahmad Taqi, the Taliban’s spokesman for the Ministry of Higher Education, said the new decision would give students and professors enough time to do their research, group works and assignments by staying at the university the entire day.
Shabana, a 22-year-old economics student at Kabul University, said her husband’s family is conservative, and they may not allow her to continue her studies if she has to spend all day at university.
Another student, Safia Ahmadi, who studies Sociology at Kabul University, and Economics at a private university, said she has to quit one due to the Taliban’s new decision.
“I’m interested in both fields of study,” she said. “It’s really hard for me to leave any of them.”
Ahmadi said the goal of the Taliban’s restriction is to keep women illiterate.
Professors said gender segregation plans will have a negative impact on the education system, and it will further marginalize women in the academic environment and later in the workplace.
Zahra Atef, a lecturer at a private university in Kabul, said the Taliban’s new gender segregation plan will turn universities into Madrasas.
“The Taliban want to destroy the values of democracy and the spirit of gender equality that have been developed among students over the years,” she said. “Taliban wants to push Afghanistan’s academic community to 20 years ago by building a border between girls and boys.”