Curtains separate male and female Afghan students as new term begins under Taliban rule

Students attend class at Avicenna University in Kabul, Afghanistan, on September 6, 2021, in this picture obtained by Reuters from social media.

(CNN)A flimsy gray curtain divides a university classroom in Kabul in two -- on one side sit the male students, on the other the female students, wearing hijabs.

It's a glimpse into what education could look like in Afghanistan under Taliban rule, as some students returned to classrooms for the start of the new school semester this week.
The last time the Taliban were in power, from 1996 to 2001, women and girls were banned from education and work. After the militants were removed in 2001, women were free to go to university and jobs.
    Now the Taliban are back. While their current leadership has insisted women will play a prominent role in society and that their regime will be "inclusive," doubts remain over whether this rhetoric will match reality.
      Photos shared on social media of the first university classrooms to open following the US withdrawal include women -- but with striking differences.
      Students divided by a curtain at Avicenna University on Monday.
      The Taliban-run Ministry of Education has approved a proposal -- submitted by Afghanistan's union of universities, which represents 131 colleges -- on the separation of male and female students.
      According to the proposal, female and male students must enter their place of learning through separate entrances. Mixed classes are only allowed where the number of female students is fewer than 15, and the classroom must be divided by a curtain.
        Newly-created classes at private universities should be separate for boys and girls, the proposal added. And all universities are obliged to designate a separate area for female students to perform their prayers.
        In addition, "all female students, lecturers and employees are obliged to observe hijab according to Sharia," the proposal said. The hijab covers the hair but not the face.
        "In the future the universities should try to hire female professors for female students. In the meantime, efforts should be made to appoint elderly professors who are well-known for being trustworthy to teach female students," the proposal continued.
        In addition to the classroom divisions, universities must designate a separate praying area for women.
        A teacher lectures students at a  university in Afghanistan's capital on September 7.
        Waheed Roshan, vice chancellor of the private Bakhtar University in Kabul, said the institution would comply with the proposal but added that for many colleges the logistics would be challenging.
        He told CNN that Bakhtar -- where about 20% of the 2,000 students are girls -- could hol