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'Our Sisters Deserve More': Afghan Men Quit College Jobs After Ban on Female Students | Afghanistan

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Baktash Amini loved his job as an assistant professor at the faculty of physics at the University of Kabul. In addition to his passion for teaching, he prided himself on helping his students pursue careers in physics, partnering with the International Center for Theoretical Physics and CERN, among others.

But her efforts to promote science education in Afghanistan seemed futile when the Taliban announced that women would be banned from university education. “At night [the] The Taliban closed the doors of universities to Afghan women, I received many messages and calls from my students. I can’t find words to describe their situation. I am an academic and the only way I could express protest was by [leaving] a system that discriminates against women,” she says. He resigned from his “dream job” on December 21st.

Professor Amini is among at least 60 Afghan academics who have resigned in protest against the Taliban decree banning women from higher education. “The Taliban has taken women’s education hostage for its political benefits. This is a betrayal of the nation,” says Abdul Raqib Ekleel, a professor of urban development at Kabul Polytechnic University, who also resigned.

“Over the past year and a half, the Taliban has made many unreasonable demands on female students, such as regulating their clothing, hijab, separate classes, being accompanied by mahram [legal male guardian] and the students thanked them all. Each professor conducted the same lectures twice a week, once for the male and then for the female. Despite this, the Taliban still banned women,” says Ekleel.

“These bans are against Islamic values ​​and against the national interest. It affects everyone, not just women. I could not be a part of such a system,” she adds.

Another Kabul University professor tore up his diplomas and educational documents on national television. “Today, if my sister and my mother can’t study, what’s the use of these studies? [degrees] for me? Here it is, I’m tearing up my original documents. I was a lecturer and I taught [students]but this country is no longer a place for education,” said a tearful Ismail Mashal in a clip that went viral on social media.

When the presenter asked what he wanted, Mashal said: “Until you allow my sister and mother to [back into universities]I will not teach.”

An Afghan student walks in front of Kabul University in Kabul, Afghanistan
Afghanistan’s Taliban rulers have ordered an indefinite ban on university education for the country’s women in December 2021. Photography: Ali Khara/Reuters

Even before the Taliban seized power, the university used to be a challenging environment for Afghan women, who faced harassment and discrimination. “Each day was a struggle to prove we deserved to be there [on campus]”, says Samira*, 23 years old, final year student. “But things have only gotten worse since the Taliban takeover. They continued to restrict all movements, even asking a teacher questions was forbidden. And now they have banned us completely.”

Samira had spent the night studying for the exams when she heard about the ban. “I cannot describe the pain to you. I’m in my last semester. I only had a few more months before I graduated. I wanted to go out and scream,” she says.

That night, she wrote in a WhatsApp group with her colleagues: “Does anyone care that the future of Afghan women is at stake?”

Many of her classmates were already mobilizing in WhatsApp groups, discussing ways to protest the ban. Over the past year and a half, Afghan women have regularly protested in the streets against the Taliban’s regressive policies, despite threats and attacks. However, few men joined them and they were often criticized for their absence from demonstrations in an already weakened civil society.

With the banning of female higher education, however, men stepped up: as well as the dismissal of male faculty, male students walked out of classrooms and exam halls in solidarity with their female colleagues.

“We stood in support of our sisters because we could no longer tolerate this injustice,” says a 19-year-old student, who took part in the strikes on Dec. 21 along with dozens of other students at Nangarhar University.

Similar protests were reported in other provinces – including Kabul, Kandahar and Ghazni – with hundreds of students and teachers staging strikes and chanting “all or nothing” slogans, demanding that women return to campuses.

“Our sisters are talented and deserve more, but also such bans on education will have a very negative and irreversible impact on our society. That’s why we [Afghan men] we need to talk now,” adds the student from Nangarhar.

Dissatisfaction with increasingly regressive policies and an environment of fear created by the Taliban was already widespread among Afghan academics.

A man uses his cell phone to read news about the arrest of prominent Afghan university professor Faizullah Jalal, who has openly criticized the hardline Taliban regime.
Professor Faizullah Jalal, who openly criticized the hardline Taliban regime, was arrested in January 2022. Photography: Wakil Kohsar/AFP/Getty Images

However, the Taliban’s brutal reaction to dissent has discouraged many from taking action. One of the few academics who dared to speak out was Professor Faizullah Jalal, arrested in January of last year.

“Previously, we wanted to speak out against unfair decisions with our sisters. We had created groups to mobilize colleagues to raise their voices, but then the Taliban found out and sent threats to all the administrators in the group, and I had no option but to remain silent”, says the student from Nangarhar.

But as the situation worsens in Afghanistan, men, particularly in academia, are now questioning his silence. “University professors cannot choose [up] a weapon and take a stand against the Taliban and their decision. In any other democratic society, civil movements are one of the forms of struggle”, says Ekleel.

“Although there is no justice or democracy under the Taliban, women have been protesting since the Taliban arrived, protecting our values ​​alone. I think it is our duty to stay with them.”