“We are retreating!” Ismail Mashal, one of the few men in Afghanistan who has publicly advocated for women’s rights, protested. Days ago, this teacher tore up his certificates on TV in protest of the Taliban banning girls from studying.
• Also read: ‘Girls don’t need sports,’ says Taliban leader
The gesture of Ismail Mashal, who last week resigned from three private universities in Kabul, did not go unnoticed: these diplomas were torn up live, during an interview on Tuesday on one of the most important private channels in the country, TOLOnews.
“As a man and a teacher, I could do nothing more for them, and I felt that my diploma had become useless. So I tore them up,” explains the 35-year-old, interviewed by AFP in his office in Kabul.
Images of his anger on a television set, captured on social media, have since circulated. His behavior was praised by some and criticized by Taliban supporters.
“I raise my voice. I stand with my sisters (students). My protest will continue even if it costs me my life.”
In the deeply conservative and patriarchal Afghan society, it is rare to see a man protesting in favor of women, but the professor assures that he will continue to campaign for their rights. Women’s demonstrations are sporadic and rarely gather more than forty participants.
“A society in which 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 being expelled from secondary schools, on December 20, the Taliban banned women from university education, claiming that they did not follow Afghanistan’s strict Islamic dress code by covering their faces and the whole body.
Ismail Mashal, who also runs his own vocational training institute for men and women, denies the charge.
“They told us to wear headscarves for women, we did. They told us to separate the rows, we did that too,” confirms thirty people in a black suit.
“The Taliban has not yet provided any rationale for the ban, which affects nearly 20 million girls.” He noted that the ban had no basis in Islamic law.
The professor continues, “The right to education for women was granted by God, the Qur’an, the Prophet (Muhammad) and our religion.” So why do we underestimate women?
Despite promises to be more flexible, the Taliban have returned to the strict interpretation of Islam that marked their first period in power (1996-2001) and have doubled down on measures against women since returning to power in August 2021.
On December 24, they ordered Afghan and international NGOs to stop working with Afghan women. Women were also 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, gyms and public baths.
They are also prohibited from traveling without a male relative and must be covered up in public.
“We are going backwards,” said Ismail, whose wife lost her job as a teacher after the Taliban returned.
Now the father of the family is worried about his daughter, who is in the sixth year, last class in primary school, after which she will not be allowed to continue her studies.
I don’t know how to tell him to stop studying after sixth grade. The professor asks what crime did you commit?
“Total coffee aficionado. Travel buff. Music ninja. Bacon nerd. Beeraholic.”