"We are concerned about these reports if they are correct," deputy minister, at the MOWA, Tajwar Kakar, told IRIN from the Afghan capital, Kabul.
"Obviously there are cultural issues we need to take into consideration, but if women are being disadvantaged then we need to change the situation," she added, reacting to a report released by Human Rights Watch (HRW) on Thursday.
The document stated that because of a shortage of female teachers, the restrictions would prevent women and girls from receiving proper education. "Girls and women are trying to make up for years of school lost under the Taliban," said Zama Coursen-Neff, counsel to HRW's children's rights division.
The new rules were announced on January 10, 2003 by the deputy head of Herat's educational department, Mohammad Deen Fahim. Fahim said that current teaching methods allowing men to teach women and girls were "in contradiction with Islamic law." The governor of Herat, Ismail Khan, who approves all government decrees, has ordered increasing restrictions on women and girls over the last year, according to the HRW report.
In December 2002, the watchdog group issued a report which documents extensive and increasing restrictions on women and girls in Herat, called: "We Want to Live as Humans: Repression of Women and Girls in Western Afghanistan".
"Our minister has tried to go to Herat to assess the situation there but has been unable to go so far, due to other issues pending. But hopefully she will go in the next few weeks," Kakar explained, adding that the ministry was hoping to establish an office in the province soon.
Government officials hope to take up the issue with the governor of Herat, Ismail Khan. However, HRW are sceptical at his approach to the subject.
"Ismail Khan has acknowledged that there is a shortage of women teachers in Herat but says he is providing girls with education," said Coursen-Neff, describing the new restrictions as a reflection of how shallow his commitment is to women's rights.
HRW has called on the UN and donors to increase pressure on the authorities in Herat to withdraw these restrictions. "The Taliban are gone, but government officials and soldiers are still sidelining, abusing and harassing women and girls in Herat," she added.
[This Item is Delivered to the "Asia-English" Service of the UN's IRIN humanitarian information unit, but may not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations. For further information, free subscriptions, or to change your keywords, contact e-mail: IRIN@ocha.unon.org or Web: http://www.irinnews.org . If you re-print, copy, archive or re-post this item, please retain this credit and disclaimer. Reposting by commercial sites requires written IRIN permission.]
Copyright (c) UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs 2003