The Education Ministry of the Taliban-led Afghan government says middle schools, high schools, and madrasahs for males will reopen on September 18, with no mention of when girls in those classes will return amid indications that the department of women’s affairs is undergoing a radical change.
The order from the Education Ministry applies to boys and teenagers from grade six and above and their teachers according to a statement on September 17. There was no reference to girls in the statement.
Students in lower grades have already been told to return to school.
When the Taliban ruled Afghanistan in 1996-2001, girls were not allowed to attend school and women were banned from work and education.
After toppling the Western-backed government in Kabul a month ago, the hard-line Islamist group suggested it had changed, including in its attitude toward women and girls.
Many Afghans were taken aback when last month the Taliban-led government announced that female university students could continue their studies but only in gender-segregated classes and if they wore a niqab -- an Islamic veil that covers the face – and abaya -- a loose-fitting and all-covering robe.
For 20 years university students of both genders studied in joint classes and did not have to abide by a dress code.
Meanwhile, in Kabul on September 17, workers replaced a sign for the department of women's affairs with one indicating the ministry would revert to the role it played in the earlier Taliban government as its moral police.
A sign for the building was covered by a replacement in a mixture of Dari and Arabic reading Ministries of Prayer and Guidance and the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, according to photographs and witnesses quoted by Reuters.
Female employees said they had been trying to report to work in the building for several weeks only to be told to return to their homes, according to videos filmed outside the building seen by Reuters.
The gates of the building were locked on September 16, one of the women said.
A Taliban spokesman did not respond to requests for comment, Reuters said.
During the Taliban’s earlier rule its Ministry for Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice became known as the group's moral police, enforcing its interpretation of Shari’a law that included a strict dress code and public executions and floggings.
A list of cabinet posts announced by the Taliban on September 7 included an acting minister for the promotion of virtue and prevention of vice and made no mention of a department of women's affairs. No women were included in the list of senior government positions.
This story includes reporting by Radio Azadi correspondents in Afghanistan. Their names are being withheld for their protection.