KABUL (AFP) - The Taliban said on Tuesday (Sept 21) Afghan girls will be allowed to return to school "as soon as possible", after their movement faced shock and fury over their effective exclusion of women and girls from public life.
The hardliners’ spokesman meanwhile announced the remaining members of Afghanistan’s new all-male government, weeks after the militants seized Kabul in an offensive that shocked the world.
The Taliban were notorious for their brutal, oppressive rule from 1996 to 2001, when women were largely barred from work and school, including being banned from leaving their homes unless accompanied by a male relative.
One month after seizing power and pledging a softer version of their previous regime, the Islamists have incrementally stripped away at Afghans’ freedoms.
During the weekend, the education ministry issued a diktat ordering male teachers and students back to secondary school but made no mention of the country's female educators and students.
At a press conference in Kabul, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said of the return of girls to school: "We are finalising things... it will happen as soon as possible."
He added that "a safe learning environment" needed to be established beforehand.
The Taliban announced their new leadership earlier in September, drawn up exclusively from loyalist ranks.
Announcing the final line-up on Tuesday, Mr Mujahid made no reference to the now closed women’s affairs ministry. No female ministers were named.
The Taliban now face the colossal task of ruling Afghanistan, an aid-dependent country whose economic troubles have only deepened since the Islamists seized power and outside funding was frozen.
Many government employees have not been paid for months, with food prices soaring.
"We have the funds but need time to get the process working," Mr Mujahid said.
The Taliban have also slashed women’s access to work, with officials previously telling them to stay at home for their own security until segregation under the group’s restrictive interpretation of syariah law can be implemented.
While the country’s new rulers have not issued a formal policy outright banning women from working, directives by individual officials have amounted to their exclusion from the workplace.
The acting mayor of the capital Kabul has said any municipal jobs currently held by women would be filled by men.
Although still marginalised, Afghan women have fought for and gained basic rights in the past 20 years, becoming lawmakers, judges, pilots and police officers, though mostly limited to large cities.
Under the ousted US-backed government, hundreds of thousands of women entered the workforce – with many becoming their families’ sole breadwinners after becoming widowed, or when their husbands were maimed during decades of conflict.