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Women can study in universities but not alongside men, says Taliban minister

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Taliban Higher Education Minister Abdul Baqi Haqqani indicated women would be allowed to study, but not alongside men.

Universities in Afghanistan will be segregated by gender, and a new Islamic dress code will be introduced, Taliban Higher Education Minister Abdul Baqi Haqqani said on Sunday.

He indicated women would be allowed to study, but not alongside men. Female students would be taught by women wherever possible and classrooms would remain separated, in accordance with the movement's interpretation of Islamic sharia law, the minister said.

He also announced a review of subjects taught with greater emphasis on an Islamic curriculum.

Women and girls were banned from schools and universities under the earlier Taliban regime between 1996 and 2001.

The new education policy marks a significant change from the practice before the Taliban takeover. Universities were co-educational, with men and women studying side by side, and female students did not have to abide by a dress code.

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Haqqani said, "We have no problems in ending the mixed-education system. The people are Muslims and they will accept it."

There are fears that the new rules will exclude women from education because the universities do not have the required infrastructure or teachers to provide separate classes

However, Haqqani insisted there are enough female teachers and that where they are not available alternatives will be found.

"It all depends on the university's capacity," he said. "We can also use male teachers to teach from behind a curtain, or use technology."

Women will be required to wear hijabs, however, Haqqani did not specify if this was limited to headscarves or would also require compulsory face coverings.

The newly installed minister also said that the subjects taught in universities will be reviewed. He told reporters that the Taliban wanted to "create a reasonable and Islamic curriculum that is in line with our Islamic, national and historical values and, on the other hand, be able to compete with other countries".

The announcement comes after a demonstration by women who came out in support of the Taliban's gender policies at Shaheed Rabbani Education University in Kabul on Saturday.

Hundreds of women, most of them wearing black niqabs and carrying small Taliban flags, listened to speeches that praised the new regime and condemned those involved in large demonstrations across the country demanding the protection of women's rights.

The issue of women's education has been one of the central questions facing the Taliban as they seek to persuade the world that they have changed since the harsh fundamentalist rule they imposed in the 1990s when women were largely banned from studying or working outside the home.

Women’s rights is an important issue as the Taliban is desperately seeking formal recognition from other countries so that it can secure aid and financial assistance from multilateral institutions and the outside world.