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Viral photos: Segregated classrooms at Kabul university

Women students were not made to cover faces

SAMAA | and - Posted: Sep 7, 2021 | Last Updated: 3 months ago
SAMAA | and
Posted: Sep 7, 2021 | Last Updated: 3 months ago

Students attend a class segregated by a curtain at a Kabul university on Monday, September 6, 2021 (Photo Twitter).

Photos of segregated classrooms at a university in Kabul have gone viral, showing curtains separating female students from their male colleagues, though the young women have not been made to cover faces.

Reports suggest the segregation has been imposed across all the universities in Kabul.

Last week, the Taliban had asked the higher education authorities in the country to submit plans for segregated learning. Abdul Baqi Haqqani, the Taliban’s acting minister for higher education, also held a meeting, or Loya Jirga, with the local elders and informed them that the people of Afghanistan will continue “their higher education in the light of Sharia law in safety without being in a mixed male and female environment.”

When universities in Kabul opened on Monday, a few classrooms were photographed with curtains suspended from the ceiling.

A set of photos, from the same classroom, shows male and female students sitting on either side of the curtain. All young women wear abayas (long robes or cloaks) and hijabs (or headscarves). The men sitting on the other side, wear shalwar kameez (tunic and baggy trousers) or jeans with formal shirts.

Remarkably, the women students do not cover their faces. They were also not made to wear the traditional shuttlecock burka, which would have covered them from head to toe. The blue Afghan burka – commonly disparaged as ‘shuttlecock’ – is the most concealing veils with only a small mesh net eyepiece to see. Abayas, on the other hand, are long cloaks with detachable headscarves. They are considered less concealing but more liberating for women.

Segregation imposed everywhere

The photos were taken at the private-run Ibn-e-Sina university, officials confirmed later on Monday though earlier social media posts attributed them to Kabul University.

However, the segregation is universal and the Kabul University’s classrooms have also been partitioned, according to news agency Reuters.

Gharjistan University, another private run educational institution, said it would have to shut down because its students had rejected the segregated classrooms. Its campus was almost empty on Monday.

“Our students don’t accept this and we will have to close the university,” Noor Ali Rahmani, the director of Gharjistan University told AFP.

A curtain hanging from the roof forms an enclosure for girl students at Kabul University on Monday, September 6, 2021 (Photo Twitter).
A curtain hanging from the roof forms an enclosure for girl students at a Kabul university on Monday, September 6, 2021 (Photo Twitter).

Another photo shows a different classroom where curtains suspended from the roof form an enclosure for women students. Unlike the other image, here, women are sequestered into a corner space.

There were reports last week that the Taliban had decreed face-covering mandatory for all women students and that they planned to impose segregation at primary and secondary schools as well.

Kabul University 60 years ago

The photos of segregated classrooms prompted some people to dig into the history and share images from the past. Malika Saadi shared a photograph of a Kabul University graduation ceremony from the 1960s. The image shows male and female students sitting mixed in an auditorium.

Another Twitter user claimed that in the 1970s women made up over 60% of the 10,000 students at Kabul University. In the 1970s, Afghanistan was under Soviet influence.

When the Taliban came to power in 1996, they banned girls above 8 years of age from attending schools and universities.

After the removal of the Taliban government in 2001, Kabul University was one of the first educational institutions to be funded by the international community. In 2015, Afghanistan opened its first women-only university.

Burkas from 1960s

The images of Afghan women wearing short hair and knee-length skirts in the 1960s tell half the story of Afghanistan.

One image made available by the news agency AFP in 2014 and published by several media outlets including CNN captures both sides. It shows five women walking along a Kabul street in 1962. Four of them wear the traditional Afghan burkas, while the fifth is in a European styled outfit that she combines with a headscarf.

This photo taken in 1962 shows five Afghan women walking along a Kabul street. Four of them wear the traditional shuttlecock bukras (Staff/AFP/Getty Image)
This photo taken in 1962 shows five Afghan women walking along a Kabul street. Four of them wear the traditional Afghan burkas (Staff/AFP/Getty Image)

The makeup of Afghan society changed over the years. The Taliban were not the first to impose a dress code on women in Afghanistan. It was the US-backed Mujahideen who introduced restrictions in 1992, according to Horia Mosadiq, an Amnesty International’s Afghanistan Researcher.

Mosadiq told CNN in a 2014 interview that a day before the Mujahideen’s takeover of Kabul on 27 April 1992 she wore a miniskirt and a sleeveless shirt but on the next day she was terrified to walk outside without being fully covered.

The latest images from Ibn-e-Sina University have drawn a mixed response from social media users. Some of them have declared it Taliban optics and claimed that the future was precarious for Afghan women; others, like Australian journalist Amanda Hodge, find it heartening that women are able to study under the Taliban regime.

This story has been edited to add new information – including an AFP quote – and to reflect the fact that the viral images are from Ibn-e-Sina University and not Kabul University.

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Kabul University, Kabul university segregation, segregated learning, Taliban Kabul University, Burka in Afghanistan

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