“We are regressing!” protests Ismail Mashal, one of the few men in Afghanistan to openly defend women's rights. A few days ago this professor tore up his diplomas on television in protest against the Taliban's ban on girls from studying.
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The gesture of Ismail Mashal, who resigned last week from three private universities in Kabul, did not go unnoticed: these diplomas were torn live, during an interview on Tuesday on one of the most important private channels. of the country, TOLOnews.
“As a man and as a teacher, I was not able to do anything else for them, and I felt that my certificates had become useless. So I tore them up,” explains the 35-year-old man, met by AFP in his office in Kabul.
Images of his anger on the TV set, picked up by social media, have since gone viral. Hailed by some, his behavior was also criticized by supporters of the Taliban.
“I raise my voice. I am standing with my sisters (students). My protest will continue even if it costs me my life,” he continued.
In the deeply conservative and patriarchal society of Afghanistan, it is rare to see a man protesting in favor of women, but the professor assures that he will continue his campaign for their rights. Women's demonstrations are sporadic and rarely bring together more than forty participants.
“A society where books and pens are snatched from mothers and sisters only leads to crimes, poverty and humiliation,” denounces the man who has been teaching journalism for more than ten years.
After banishing them from secondary schools, on December 20 the Taliban barred women from university education, claiming they did not follow a strict Islamic dress code in Afghanistan of covering their faces and the whole body.
'No logical reason'
Ismail Mashal, who also runs his own vocational training institute for men and women, denies the charge.
“They told us to implement hijab for women, we did. They told us to separate the classes, we did it too”, underlines the thirty-something dressed in a black suit.
"The Taliban have so far given no logical reason for the ban which affects around 20 million girls." The ban even has no basis in Islamic Sharia, he notes.
"The right to education for women has been given by God, by the Koran, by the prophet (Mohammad) and by our religion", so "why should we look down on women?", continues the professor.
Despite their promises to be more flexible, the Taliban have returned to the ultra-rigorous interpretation of Islam that marked their first spell in power (1996-2001) and have multiplied measures against women since their return to power in August 2021.
On December 24, they ordered Afghan and international NGOs to stop working with Afghan women. Women have also been excluded from most public service jobs or paid poverty wages to stay at home. Since November, they are also no longer allowed to go to parks, gymnasiums and public baths.
They are also prevented from traveling without a close male relative and must cover up in public.
"We are regressing," said Ismail, whose wife lost her job as a teacher after the Taliban returned.
The father of the family is now worried about his daughter, who is in the sixth year, the last class of primary school, after which she will no longer be allowed to continue classes.
“I don't know how to tell him to stop studying after sixth grade. What crime did she commit?” asks the professor.