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Afghan universities are ready to accept women again, but not until the Taliban leader says it’s okay, an official says

Kabul, Afghanistan –

Afghanistan's universities are poised to accept women students again, but the ruling Taliban leader has the final say on when that could happen — if at all, an education official said Saturday.

Last December, the Taliban banned women from the campus, sparking global outrage. Shortly after the Taliban took power in August 2021, girls were banned from attending school beyond sixth grade. Afghanistan is the only country in the world where women's education is banned.

Afghan Higher Education Minister Nida Mohammed Nadim said at the time the university ban was necessary to prevent gender mixing and because he believed some of the subjects taught violated the principles of Islam.

He said the ban issued by Taliban leader Hibatullah Akhundzada for the southern city of Kandahar is in place until further notice.

An adviser to the Ministry of Higher Education, Molvi Abdul Jabbar, said universities are ready to resume female students once Akhundzada orders the ban lifted. When and if that would happen, he could not say.

Akhundzada “ordered the universities to close, so they closed,” he told The Associated Press. “If he says they're open, they'll open the same day. All our politicians are in favor of restarting girls' education, even our ministers are in favor of it.”

Jabbar said he last met Akhundzada seven or eight years ago. He fought alongside him against the Russians during the ten-year Soviet war in Afghanistan and has been part of the Taliban for 27 years.

“Only because of our obedience (to Akhundzada) do we obey his orders,” he said.

His comments are another sign of differing opinions within the Taliban over Akhundzada's decision-making process and enactments, with Chief Spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid quick to dismiss reports of splits. They also show the authority Akhundzada exercises over the Taliban.

Afghan Higher Education Minister Nida Mohammed Nadim is interviewed on Saturday, August 12, 2023, in Kabul, Afghanistan. Nadim says universities are ready to accept women students back, but the Taliban supreme leader must give the order for their return. The Taliban banned women from campuses last December, sparking global outrage. (AP Photo/ Siddiqullah Alizai)

Minister Nadim had presented the ban as a temporary measure while solutions were found to address issues related to gender segregation, course material and dress codes. He said universities would reopen to women once resolved.

The Taliban made similar promises about access to secondary school for girls, saying classes would resume for them once “technical issues” surrounding uniforms and transportation were resolved, but girls are still barred from education.

Jabbar said the education sector is the same as before.

“Everything is prepared in advance, whether it’s school or university. It may be that the (starting) times are different, boys in the morning and girls in the afternoon. Or there are girls in the morning and boys in the afternoon.”

His comments come days before the second anniversary of the Taliban's return to power.

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