The Taliban on Wednesday said they have reopened public universities for women students in two of Afghanistan's 34 provinces, a move marking a major concession to international demands by the country's new rulers.
Since they swept into power in mid-August last year, the international community has watched to see whether the Taliban will impose the same harsh measures as during their 1990s rule of Afghanistan, including banning girls from education and women from the workplace and public life.
The Taliban have imposed several restrictions, many of them on women, since their takeover — women have been banned from many jobs outside the health and teaching sector, and girls have not been able to go to school after grade six.
The Taliban demand women wear headscarves but have stopped short of imposing the burqa, the head-to covering that was compulsory under their previous rule.
The Taliban-run culture and information ministry said Wednesday that public universities in the provinces of Nangarhar and Kandahar were now open for women in what it described as a staggered process expected to see all students, men and women, eventually return to university.
The two provinces have warmer climates and therefore are the first to reopen, the ministry said. Men will attend classes in the morning and women in the afternoon, aligning with a gender-segregated system under the Taliban.
Earlier this week, Abdul Baqi Haqqani, the Taliban-appointed education minister, said that public universities elsewhere in Afghanistan, including the University of Kabul, would reopen for both men and women on Feb. 26.
“All instructors and officials are advised to concentrate on their responsibilities and provide the required facilities for the students,” Haqqani said in a recorded video clip on Sunday.
The United Nations mission in Afghanistan welcomed his announcement, calling it “important for Afghanistan” in a tweet Tuesday.
“So crucial that every young person has equal access to education,” the mission said.
On Wednesday, Taliban-appointed culture and information minister, Khairullah Khairkhwa, visited the Kandahar University and said that “modern and Islamic education simultaneously can lead a country to prosperity.”
Since their takeover, the Taliban have come under heavy fire for denying girls and women education.
Reopening of public universities would be their first concession. The Taliban have also promised that all girls will be back in school by the end of March at the start of the Afghan new year.