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Kabul University chancellor says female students will be allowed, but segregated

A man sells Taliban flags imprinted with the Muslim creed in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Sept. 24.
A man sells Taliban flags imprinted with the Muslim creed in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Sept. 24.

Updated October 2, 2021 at 4:51 PM ET

Editor's note: An earlier version of this story and headline attributed comments made on Twitter to the new head of Kabul University. The account cited in the story has since tweeted that it does not belong to the chancellor, but rather to a student at the university, and the account has been deleted.

Female students at Kabul University face an uncertain future — and adding to the murkiness this week were posts from a widely cited Twitter account purporting to be from the new Taliban-appointed head of the school, saying women would not be allowed to attend class. The account later said it belongs to a student who was purposely misidentifying themselves, and the account was then deleted.

Kabul University said fake social media accounts that were created in its chancellor's name had been used to spread "fake news, misinformation and rumors."

Kabul University Chancellor Mohammed Ashraf Ghairat now tells NPR that "there is no doubt" that female professors and students will resume their studies at the university. "Only the work-frame and procedure are under work. When finalized we will let them know through our official pages and sources to return," he said.

Ghairat added, "Of course, they will be taught in a new, well-effective manner." Officials plan on "teaching soon in a better environment, and separately," he said.

"I have respect for professors and students from all genders. I will help them all equally," Ghairat said. "All will play their role in constructing this damaged homeland. I asked my people to ... not to listen to fake news and propaganda. Men and women will together run this country."

A Taliban spokesperson told The Washington Post that women would not be allowed to attend classes until they could be segregated from male students; another told The New York Times that the Taliban is working out a "safer transportation system and an environment where female students are protected."

Last month, newly appointed Higher Education Minister Abdul Baqi Haqqani said women would be allowed to study at Afghan universities as long as they are segregated by gender.

A hoax Twitter account gains widespread attention

The misleading Twitter account, which was cited in NPR's original report and other media outlets, purported to be from Ghairat. It said that women would not be allowed to attend class — "until we create an Islamic environment, women have to stay home."

However, on Wednesday, tweets from the account stated that it actually belonged to a 20-year-old student at the university.

"All these days that I was tweeting pretending to be the new chancellor, no one doubted my words to be fake, & the reason is clear, what I was saying is literally both the ideology and actions of Taliban towards education, human and women rights in Afghanistan," the tweet stated. The owner of the account did not immediately respond to NPR's request for comment, and the account has since been deleted.

Ghairat now tells NPR, "Many fake accounts are being made after my name. I cannot do anything about it. But media should not run stories on important issues through social media. I ask my people to listen only to our official media sources."

Segregation in schools is common in Afghanistan

Even before the Taliban seized power, many Afghan universities had already been closed for months because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Some private universities recently reopened, but the status of public schools have remained in doubt as the return of Taliban rule added a new dynamic, prompting repeated public demands that women be allowed to continue their studies.

Despite the closures and the Taliban takeover, professors — both female and male — have kept up their practice of reporting to university buildings to sign the "present" sheets that are the norm for many jobs in Afghanistan.

Gender-segregated education has long been common in Afghanistan's private and public schools, as the advocacy group Human Rights Watch noted in 2017. Such practices are complicated and expensive, and they sometimes require administrators to either duplicate their offerings or split their school days into shifts for male and female students.

The divisions also create logistical hurdles. At Kabul University, the department of Sharia law has for years been segregated, with men and women occupying different parts of the building. Some schools maintain two separate faculties for a range of studies, from engineering and law to art and literature.

When private universities reopened last month, at least one installed a curtain down the middle of a classroom to divide women and men.

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