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Taliban Resurrects Gender Segregation In Public Offices, Transport In Afghanistan

A girl waits with Afghan women to receive bread from a bakery in Kabul.

Gender segregation was a hallmark of the Taliban’s brutal regime in Afghanistan in the 1990s, when unrelated men and women were barred from mixing in public places.

Since regaining power in August, the militant group has gradually resurrected its discriminatory policies, enforcing strict segregation in universities, government offices, and on public transportation.

Rights groups have accused the Taliban of imposing gender apartheid in Afghanistan, with fears that girls and women will be excluded from public life.

The Taliban has dramatically rolled back women’s rights in recent months, including closing most girls’ secondary schools and banning women from most forms of employment. Women who have demonstrated for greater rights have been arrested and, in some cases, disappeared.

The Taliban’s Ministry for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice earlier this month sent a letter to the Health Ministry ordering it to segregate male and female employees.

“The offices for men and women should be separate,” said the letter, a copy of which was obtained by RFE/RL’s Radio Azadi.

Afghan women protest against the mandatory hijab imposed by the Taliban.
Afghan women protest against the mandatory hijab imposed by the Taliban.

The ministry, which is the enforcer of the Taliban’s radical interpretation of Islamic law, also warned that health care should be denied to female patients who do not observe the Islamic hijab.

Several employees of the Health Ministry, who talked to Radio Azadi on condition of anonymity, confirmed the authenticity of the letter.

The Taliban did not respond to messages from Radio Azadi seeking comment.

The Taliban initially ordered women not to return to work. But it later called female health workers back to clinics and hospitals, although many were too scared to resume their work.

Rights groups say gender segregation has created barriers to women and girls accessing health care. At many facilities, patients are only treated by a health professional of the same sex.

Hindering Education

In September, the Taliban imposed gender segregation at private universities and colleges in Afghanistan.

According to a decree issued by the Taliban's Education Ministry, classes must be segregated by gender -- or at least divided by a curtain. The order said that female students must be taught only by other women. But it added, though, that "elderly men" of good character could fill in if there were no female teachers.

A lack of female teachers and facilities has complicated women’s access to higher education. In some cases, female students have been told that some courses will no longer be available to them.

Before the Taliban’s return to power, Afghan women studied alongside men and attended classes with male teachers. Government schools, however, were segregated by gender.

In recent months, the militants have also expanded gender segregation to public transportation.

Sanga Lemar, a university lecturer in Kabul, told Radio Azadi that the restrictions have made her daily commute unbearable.

Afghan women, wearing burqas, walk down a market street in Kabul.
Afghan women, wearing burqas, walk down a market street in Kabul.

"Women are banned from sitting in the front seats [of buses], which forces us to wait an hour or more to find an appropriate car or bus,” she said.

Lemar accused Taliban fighters of violating their own gender segregation rules. She recalled how a male Taliban fighter went through her purse when she was stopped at a security checkpoint.

"It is strange that they want to keep unrelated men and women separate yet allow a stranger to go through a woman's purse," she said.

Despite promising to show more moderation than during its rule from 1996 to 2001, the Taliban has imposed severe restrictions on the behavior, movement, and appearances of women and girls.

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