Newly announced rules on female education in the western Afghan province of Herat prohibit men from teaching women or girls in private educational courses and uphold strict gender segregation in all schools, Human Rights Watch said today. Because of a shortage of female teachers, the restrictions will result in a severe limitation on the ability of women and girls to receive proper education.
The 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 are "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.
"Girls and women are trying to make up for years of school lost under the Taliban," said Zama Coursen-Neff, counsel to Human Rights Watch's children's rights division. "These new restrictions may make it impossible for many to achieve that."
Under the Taliban, women and girls across Afghanistan were forbidden from attending universities and almost all schools.
Until last week, many women and girls in Herat attended private educational courses to supplement their public schooling, especially in foreign language and computer skills. Public schools and universities in Herat are currently closed for the winter. Almost all private educational courses in Herat are taught by men. As a result, the new prohibition will effectively exclude women and girls from most courses.
"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. "These new restrictions show just how shallow that claim is."
In December 2002, Human Rights Watch issued a 52-page report on extensive and increasing restrictions on women and girls in Herat. The report, "We Want to Live as Humans: Repression of Women and Girls in Western Afghanistan," documented a catalogue of Taliban-era restrictions imposed on women and girls' freedom of work, education, movement and political participation. The report described how women and girls seen alone with unrelated men, even walking on the street or riding in a taxi, are taken to hospitals for gynecological examinations to determine if they have recently had sexual intercourse.
"The Taliban are gone, but government officials and soldiers are still sidelining, abusing and harassing women and girls in Herat," Coursen-Neff said.
Ismail Khan has specifically denied past allegations by Human Rights Watch about the rights situation in Herat.
Noting that international actors are providing substantial educational assistance in Afghanistan, Human Rights Watch called on the United Nations Mission in Afghanistan and all donors and nations involved in Afghanistan to increase pressure on the Herat government to rescind its restrictions on women and girls.
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