Afghan men quit their jobs at the university after female students were banned

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Baktash Amini loved his job as an assistant professor in the physics department of Kabul University. In addition to his passion for teaching, he was proud to help his students pursue careers in physics, establishing partnerships with the International Center for Theoretical Physics and Cern, among others.

However, his efforts to further science education in Afghanistan seemed in vain when the Taliban announced that women would be barred from higher education. “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’m a scientist and the only way I could protest was through [leaving] a system that discriminates against women,” she says. He resigned from his “dream job” on December 21.

Professor Amini is one of at least 60 Afghan scientists who have resigned in protest against a Taliban decree banning women from higher education. “The Taliban have taken women’s education hostage to their political interests. It is a betrayal of the nation,” says Abdul Raqib Ekleel, a lecturer in urban planning at Kabul Polytechnic University, who also resigned.

“Over the past year and a half, the Taliban have made many irrational demands on female students, such as regulation of their dress, hijab, separate classes, accompanying them mahram [legal male guardian] and the disciples committed themselves to all of them. Each professor gave the same lectures twice a week, once for men, then for women. Despite this, the Taliban still banned women,” says Ekleel.

“These bans are against Islamic values ​​and the national interest. It affects everyone, not just women. I couldn’t be part of such a system.

I can’t describe the pain to you. I’m in my last semester and I still have a few months left to graduate

Samira, a student

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

When the presenter asked what he wanted, Mashal said, “As long as you don’t let my sister and mother [back into universities]I will not teach.”

An Afghan student walks in front of Kabul University in Kabul, Afghanistan

The rulers of Afghanistan, the Taliban, in December 2021 ordered women in the country to be banned from higher education indefinitely. Photo: Ali Khara/Reuters

Even before the Taliban takeover, the university was often a challenge for Afghan women, who were harassed and discriminated against. “Every day was a fight to prove we deserved to be there [on campus]says 23-year-old Samira*, a final year student. “But the situation has worsened since the Taliban took power. They restricted every movement, even asking questions of the professor was forbidden. And now they’ve completely banned us.”

Samira had spent the evening studying for her exams when she heard about the ban. “I can’t describe the pain to you. I’m in my last semester. I still have a few months left until graduation. I wanted to go out and scream,” she says.

That night, she wrote on a WhatsApp group with her classmates: “Doesn’t anyone care that the future of women in Afghanistan is at stake?”

Many of her classmates were already mobilizing on 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.

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However, with the banning of women in higher education, men’s actions intensified: with the resignation of the male teaching staff, male students walked out of classrooms and examination halls in solidarity with their classmates.

“We stood up for our sisters because we could no longer tolerate this injustice,” said a 19-year-old student who took part in the strike on December 21 along with dozens of other students from Nangarhar University.

Similar protests took place in other provinces – including Kabul, Kandahar and Ghazni – with hundreds of students and faculty organizing strikes and chanting “all or none” to demand the return of women to campuses.

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

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

A man uses his mobile phone to read the news about the arrest of prominent Afghan university professor Faizullah Jalal, who openly criticized the hardline Taliban regime.

Prof. Faizullah Jalal, who openly criticized the hardline Taliban regime, was arrested in January 2022. Photo: Wakil Kohsar/AFP/Getty Images

However, the Taliban’s brutal response to the opposition dissuaded many from taking action. One of the few scientists who dared to speak out was Prof. Faizullah Jalal, who was arrested last January.

“Previously, we wanted to demonstrate against decisions that were unfair to our sisters. We formed the groups to mobilize classmates to speak up, but then the Taliban found out about it and sent threats to all group administrators, and I had no choice but to remain silent,” says a student from Nangarhar.

But as the situation in Afghanistan worsens, men, especially in academia, are now questioning their silence. “University professors cannot choose [up] arms and stand against the Taliban and their decisions. In any other democratic society, civic movements are one of the ways to fight,” says Ekleel.

“Although there is no justice or democracy under the Taliban, women have been protesting since the arrival of the Taliban, standing up for our values ​​themselves. I think it’s our duty to stand by their side.”

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