Taliban’s vague stance on female students delays return

The Taliban’s vague stance on the fate of female students and a controversy surrounding the new chancellor of Kabul University have continued to put a hold on the resumption of studies at Afghanistan’s prestigious public university.

Driven by mounting student demand for education, some private universities resumed classes on 6 September, accepting Taliban demands such as raising barriers inside classrooms to segregate male and female students. Many students stayed away.

The Taliban’s information ministry in charge of affairs in Afghanistan reiterated the regime’s stance on gender-based segregation and on ‘soon’ re-opening public universities.

“The approach [of gender-based segregation] has been provided and efforts are underway for new recruitment [of female teachers] so lessons will resume after that hiring,” said Jawad Sargar, a member of the Culture Commission in Afghanistan, according to the local Tolo News.

A Kabul University (KU) professor who did not wish to be named told University World News that the Taliban had asked faculty members to share ideas for implementing the gender-based segregation policy so that classes could resume.

“This seems like an excuse just to kill time because there are not enough female teachers or funds available to make this policy work,” said the KU professor.

The Taliban’s Ministry of Higher Education on 21 September declared one of their members, Mohammad Ashraf Ghairat, as the new chancellor for Kabul University, ousting Mohammad Osman Babury, who had earned his doctorate from Germany besides having rich academic experience in Russia and India.

After Ghairat was appointed, dozens of university professors protested and even threatened to quit their jobs.

KU Professor Saif Uddin said the Taliban’s decision to appoint Ghairat as the university’s head went against the principles of academic rules. “Scientific and academic institutions are sacred and by reducing their values and dignity to such an extent that a person whose expertise is not known in any field and has no knowledge and work experience is installed as its head, this is simply unacceptable,” he told the University World News.


Disheartened by the Taliban’s gender-based segregation policy, an arts faculty student said there was absolutely no communication in place between the new KU administration and students on when and how studies would resume under the new rules.

“We students who are still staying in Kabul and are eager to study are not being told officially about how to proceed and prepare for studies as the academic year is nearly ending,” the student – who also served as an administrative intern at a private firm – said on condition of anonymity due to fears for her security.

She added: “Not all the girls feel easy and comfortable about segregation in the university and everywhere in society.”

Confusion over the university’s plans increased after a Twitter account said to be set up by Ghairat was declared to be fake. Ghairat had purportedly defended his controversial selection through an array of tweets on a newly created Twitter account with no reactions from the Taliban leadership or his office at KU.

One of the tweets said: “I give you my words as the chancellor of Kabul University: as long as real ‘Islamic environment’ is not provided for all, women will not be allowed to come to universities or work. Islam first.”

But, within days of it being posted, the account posted a statement saying that the account was ‘fake’ and did not come from the Taliban-appointed chancellor. One of the statements that followed said the account was being operated by a 20-year-old KU student in the law and political science faculty.

Commenting on this, Kabul-based technology expert Ajmal Sultany told University World News it was difficult to determine the truth and establish whether it is indeed the chancellor’s own account, adding that the messaging was clever with the account posting pictures of Ghairat meeting various people, “but it all recently changed”.

Students said they can no longer rely on the account to know the university administration’s plans, and they said their future is up in the air not knowing what kind of education they will receive if and when the university re-opens.