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Female students join their male peers as Afghan varsities reopen

Afghanistan’s public universities opened on Wednesday for the first time since the Taliban took over the country in 2022, with female students joining their male counterparts heading back to campus.

The Taliban administration has not officially announced its plan for female university students, but education officials said women were permitted to attend classes on the condition that they were separated from male students.

A Reuters witness in the eastern city of Jalalabad saw female students entering via a separate door at Nangarhar University, one of the large government universities.

Under their previous rule from 1996 to 2001, the hardline Islamist Taliban barred women and girls from education.

The group said it has changed since resuming power on Aug. 15, as foreign forces withdrew. But it has been vague on its plans and high school-aged girls in many provinces have still not been allowed to return to school.

Some private universities have reopened, but in many cases, female students have not been able to return to class.

A female medical student at Nangarhar University who asked not to be named for security reasons said that classes had already been separated by gender.

She, however, said it was not clear if they were still able to be taught by male lecturers or interact outside the classroom with male students.

“Only our studying shifts are separated, although we have been told not to walk around the university until the boys’ time is complete.

“In spite of all the changes and conditions, I still want to continue because my education should not be incomplete.’’

The international community has made education of girls and women a key part of its demands as the Taliban seek more foreign aid and the unfreezing of overseas assets.

Aid groups have raised the alarm that the stalled financial system and a stark drop in foreign funding that used to form the backbone of the economy are creating a humanitarian catastrophe in the country, already battered by decades of war.

The United Nations on Tuesday praised the inclusion of female students at public universities, appearing to indicate official confirmation.

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An education official who asked not to be named because he was not authorized to speak to the media said universities had been given different options to keep female students isolated, including separated classes and staggered operating hours.

Khalil Ahmad Bihsudwal, head of Nangarhar University told Reuters male and female students at the institution would attend separate classes, a practice already in place in many provinces.

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