ISLAMABAD, Pakistan – Taliban security forces fanned out to some universities and informal learning centers in Kabul on Wednesday, teachers said, enforcing an edict issued the night before that appears to have banned most females from any education beyond the sixth grade.
In one instance, a teacher reported security forces barging into his class, shouting at girls to go home. "Some of students started verbal arguments with them, but they didn't listen. My students left their classes, crying," said Waheed Hamidi, an English-language teacher at a tuition center in Kabul.
The move was expected – and dreaded – by observers as the Taliban's supreme leader Mullah Haibutullah Akhundzada imposes his vision of an Afghanistan which is ultra-conservative, even by the hardline group's standards.
"I genuinely think that the man in charge thinks that this is what an Islamic society ought to look like," says Obaidullah Baheer, a Kabul-based lecturer at the American University of Afghanistan. Speaking earlier to NPR about Akhundzada, he said, "he had this very specific view of where women or young girls should be within the society, which is within their households. So I guess for all intents and purposes, this is a gender apartheid. This is nothing short of that."
Since coming to power in August last year, the Taliban have overseen a hodgepodge of education policies. They allow girls to attend school until the sixth grade, when primary school ends. But they have prevented most girls from attending formal secondary school education, reneging on a promise to allow them back to class in March, when the scholastic year began. Some girls in distant provinces still attended high school, however, and another, unknown number were attending informal classes in tuition centers.
And in a quirk of contradictory decision-making, the former minister of higher education Abdul Baqi Haqqani allowed women to attend universities, albeit under strict conditions, including wearing face coverings and abiding by strict segregation. But in October, Haqqani was replaced with known hardliner, Nida Mohammad Nadim, who had expressed his opposition to women receiving an education. He is known to be close to Akhundzada.